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She Who Hears the Sun: 06/18/08
Yesterday I shared my ongoing fascination with Tutankhamen and the 18th Dynasty. Today I'm reviewing a historical fiction about another interest of mine, Navajo (Diné) history and culture. I think it started with all the family vacations to Arizona as a kid but it wasn't until college that I started doing actual research for fun.
She Who Hears the Sun is a historical fiction that covers the war with the United States as settlers pushed west and the eventual demarcation of the modern day Navajo Nation (Diné Bikéyah) which extends through much of Arizona, New Mexico and into Utah.
Although Pamela Jekel mostly keeps the narrative centered around a single family of Navajos, she does try to give the perspective of the other groups involved: the Utes, the Mexicans and the American soldiers. She further sets the state by following a number of wild creatures who also give a somewhat spiritual gloss to another wise straightforward historical fiction.
The main characters though are Ayoi and her daughter, Pahe, later renamed At'ééd Johonaa'éí Yidiits'a'í (She Who Hears the Sun) and the other members of their immediate family. Like many cultures, there is the private name that only the closest family members will use and the public name that everyone else will use. Jekel uses these two identities for her characters to bring an extra intimacy and poignancy to certain scenes.
The book comes in at about 400 pages with another ten or so of bibliography. Although the book is fiction, it is full of so many interesting details that I was constantly putting the book down to take notes, something I very rarely do when reading for fun. I even bought a book listed in her bibliography (one that I had used as a reference back in college).
To learn more about the Navajo, check out their website!