The Quest: A Lakota Legend
by Charles Richard Latona
Westwood Books Publishing

"Even in the dim light of the campfire, signs of a lifetime of harsh winters and hot, dry summers were easily seen etched deeply in his brown skin."

Books about Native Americans are certainly scarcer than those about people from other countries who came to America to plunder, profit, or simply to start a new life. Fortunately, over the years both fiction and nonfiction tomes have begun to recount tales of the initial inhabitants of the United States. There have been heartbreaking books such as Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee and meticulously documented histories like Joseph M. Marshall’s The Journey of Crazy Horse. Latona’s book is now an addition to those about the first Americans. His is a novel that brings history and humanity to life. It achieves more than simply a presentation of time, place, and conditions that existed in earlier days. It personalizes history and even legend by peopling its pages with characters that seem real yet simultaneously larger than life. It constructs a believable chronicle that also feels mythic.

Latona divides his narrative into four sections. The first introduces White Wolf, a Sioux medicine man who travels south from the Black Hills to gather special herbs and more for his tribe. His is a journey fraught with potential dangers—not only from the land and the beasts that inhabit it but also from tribes the Sioux refer to as savages. In one encounter with these villains, White Wolf barely escapes with his life. The second section focuses on four young braves in preparation for their passage to manhood. We learn about each of them individually—both their physical and mental capabilities as well as the psychological and cultural influences that drive them. Their rights of initiation follow. Each brave must pass a series of tests. Some are as sedate as simply passing on the stories of what each encountered on their solo journeys. Some are as physically and spiritually taxing as what one experiences in a sweat lodge. And some, such as Dance To The Sun are even tortuous—evoking scenes similar to the 1970 theatrical film A Man Called Horse. The last section reveals which of these young braves White Wolf will groom to be his successor and then moves the story on to journeys in this world and the next.

Throughout his involving tale, the author paints stunning and vivid pictures of both the physical and mystical environments that surround his characters. Latona is a writer committed to intricately detailing the facets of everyday Sioux life as well as the many legends that helped guide their spiritual beliefs. While mostly a male-dominated chronicle, the author also portrays female members of the tribe both affectionately and with respect for the responsibilities they were tasked with plus the frequent hardships they were forced to endure. Also strikingly depicted are the very real dangers that existed at the time. Violent conflicts with nature, animals, and other tribes are told in compelling passages filled with suspense. One episode in particular, describing the torture of an individual spread-eagled on an anthill by a group of brutal marauders, is exceptionally disturbing.

In summary, this is a book that paints a vibrant verbal portrait of people enduring harsh realities buttressed by a belief in forces greater than themselves. It is a tale of courage, daring, and legends. Those with an interest in Native Americans, plus those who simply enjoy a grand adventure, will quite likely find this book well worth the time they spend with it.

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