Sunday, August 2, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: "The Vanishing American" by Zane Grey

Hi everyone,

First I will mention that the Q&A part of the feature and giveaway of Descent ( The Birthrite Series​, #1) at Unusual Historicals is now up. :)

So with that said, onto the book review of The Vanishing American by Zane Grey.

Zane Grey was born on January 31, 1872 in Zanesville, OH. He was a semiprofessional baseball player during his youth, along with being a "half-hearted dentist". He studied dentistry to appease his father while on a baseball scholarship at the University of Pennsylvania. His true passion, however, was writing and he put himself on a strict regimen when it came to honing the skill of crafting a gripping and compelling story. It would pay off as he would soon go on to become among the bestselling Western authors of all time. For much of his adult life, he had at least one novel in the top ten each year. According to the Official Zane Grey's West Society website, having his name on a movie theater marquee (as several of his books were adapted to film) often drew more audiences than the names of the Hollywood actors starring in the film. Even after his death in 1939, posthumous works continued being published.
The Vanishing American is said to arguably be one of his greatest works. It tells the story of the love between Nophaie, a young Native American (or American Indian) man and his love for and with a woman by the name of Marian Warner. It was first published as a serial in the 1922 run of the Ladies Home Journal, a periodical that had over a couple million subscribers at the time. In 1925, it was then published as a novel and adapted for the screen, a cast that included Geronimo's grandson in a supporting role.
In the beginning of the book, we meet Nophaie as a young boy, tending to the sheep in the desert before he is kidnapped by white bandits. After they let him go, he is adopted by a white family, and brought up in the ways of "the white man." He attends college where he is the star athlete on the baseball team. It is also at the college where he meets Marian Warner. The two have an almost instant connection and a rather romantic relationship. However, after graduation, Nophaie returns out west in an attempt to rediscover his AmerIndian roots and ancestry.
We are then taken to February 10, 1916 where Marian Warner is living in Philadelphia. She receives a letter from Nophaie, a letter in which he declares his feelings of love once again, beseeching her to come out to Oljato and work among his people. It is an invitation she accepts and then boards a train.
Throughout the next couple chapters we see Marian experiencing life outside the city and in the unforgiving wilderness for the first time. She also has a Native American guide whom she has paid to take her to where Nophaie said he would be. Along the way, she experiences the desert wilderness as she imagines Nophaie does everyday and as difficult as it is, she comes to prefer it to city life. She also very much anticipates seeing Nophaie again. Along the way, she stays with a family of traders at a trading post who do know Nophaie personally and also know of her from his speaking of her.
Finally when the two are reunited, it is a pretty emotional scene.
After that, we are taken on the journey of Nophaie's inner battles of having "a white man's brain and an Indian's heart and soul." Meanwhile, Marian is on her own journey of rediscovery of self as she lives among the Native American tribes, working as a school teacher for the children.

In reading this story, I understand how Zane Grey's writings were so popular during his time. The story is rich with beautiful imagery and the characters, both good and bad, are compelling even if slightly stereotypical of Westerners. And Grey's own sympathy for and belief in ethical treatment toward Native Americans are also evident throughout the pages of The Vanishing American. I very much recommend reading this book (along with watching the 1925 film...but read the book first before seeing the film) as I think it offers a slightly different perspective from how the media often portrays those from Grey's time, in addition to being a touching and thought provoking story. Even if this book might have been seen as controversial, it didn't exactly ruin Grey's popularity and career. In fact, the book itself had a tremendous impact on the public and - as far as I know - the only protesting it received were those from Christian missionary and government groups who were afraid that this book would put them in a bad light (Grey did have to alter a few parts in the story pertaining to that before his publisher would put it out, though the uncensored version was later published in the early 1980s).
The bottom line is this: I think that regardless of era, there are always groups and individuals looking for something different from what the status quo tries shoving at them. And if you can write a good story and tell your side in a eloquent fashion, people will listen and take your points into consideration. Grey wrote of many issues during his time, from the ethical treatment of Native Americans to nature conservation to philosophical questions of the Ultimate Reality and the meaning of life. The Vanishing American encompasses all of this, and takes the reader on a journey. Not only the journey of Nophaie and Marian, but a journey of the reader's own self-discovery.

Read The Vanishing American


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