Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter

This is one of those books that I feel everyone should read at least once before they die. For one thing, it left me with a feeling that it is not long enough because I desired to read more. I enjoyed the imagery within this book of simple moments that if they are not read carefully than I knew I would miss how poignant and beautiful they really are. This is a book that is hard to describe to others how I felt after reading it because all I realized is that somehow I was different for having read it now. Even if this book isn't exactly deemed politically correct now, I feel it will remain still validly a classic because of the raw themes and perspectives it contains.
I felt this book was a great discussion for our book club and it had a lot to think about. In such a short novel, Richter masterfully presents a number of viewpoints without heavy bias one towards another. Each side is complicated and each character paints a perspective that can be understood even sympathetically. I'm glad I chose this as a book club selection because we discussed not only the basic themes of freedoms vs. civilization, imperfections in both societies, hardships of frontier life, but even more complicated themes like the value of inter-personal communications, misperceptions and the struggle for identity and loyalty.
(Below may include spoilers.)

The basic overview of this book is about two groups of people, Native American Indians and the Whites now settling on their land. This story is told through the eyes of True Son. He was born as John Butler to a white family in a frontier town. At the tender age of four, True Son is captured by the Lenni Lenape Indian tribe. He is taken in by the great warrior, Cuyloga, as his own son, given a new name of True Son and raised by the tribe for approximately ten years. He is an Indian in every sense as he can think, feel, speak, revere their Spirit and fight all as they do. This has shaped him and he is who he is now. So, it shouldn't seem such a shock, yet it did feel that way, when suddenly the Indians have to make a treaty and return all white captives to their own people. It is emotionally gripping and at times violent. Yet there is the interwoven simplistic conflict between these two groups and how Richter paints this vivid picture through True Son who struggles so deeply and individually that seems to tug at my heartstrings. His confusion and pain is real. It haunts me.
One of the most touching scenes to me is when True Son is told to put on the clothes of the white man which represents frustration and pain to him and his brother, Gordie, who makes an effort to help him by saying:
When you put these on, will you give me your Indian clothes, True Son? … Then I can be an Indian.

In the silence after this is said, an unjudgemental connection is felt between them. There is respect and compassion. Most of all, there is hope.

128 pages, 1953 - publisher · Alfred A. Knopf, My rating: 5 stars.

Other references for this book:

Blogfest Project for A Light in the Forest.

Walt's Unsung Star: Remembering James McArthur



Chrissie said...

Wow, your passion for this book just screams out from your review. It sounds like a life-changing book and one that I will need to try and get my hands on! Thanks for linking this up to Radiant Reviews :)

Unknown said...

wow this sounds like a very powerful read! Thanks for sharing! =)

Hamilcar Barca said...

oh my, Julie, i remember watching this movie as a young kid and loving it.

it was really a rather complex subject for a Disney flick - what do you do when two cultures both have legitimate ties to a child?

i never knew it was based on a book. i may have to find this at the local used-book store.

Julie said...

Thanks Chrissie, Larissa, and Hamilcar for reading and commenting on my review! It means a lot! :) Sorry, I'm late in getting back to you.

Chrissie - I do really enjoy this book and I'm glad that comes through in my review. :)

Larissa - There is definitely a feeling you get after you read this, at least I did, which is hard to explain. A new perspective, perhaps. :)

Hamilcar - I've never watched this movie. It is a very complex subject yet I thought it was written wisely. I hope you do find it and read and review it. Thanks for keeping up with 5-squared. :)