What is Sherman Alexie's novel Reservation Blues about?

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shake99 | Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Reservation Blues is the debut novel for American writer Sherman Alexie. Alexie, who has Native American and European heritage, was raised on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Spokane, Washington.

Reservation Blues was published in 1995. It tells the story of a group of Native Americans from a small Washington town called Wellpinit. Alexie incorporates real-life blues legend Robert Johnson, who, after making his mythical deal with the devil as depicted in the movie Crossroads, journeys to Wellpinit and leaves his guitar with an Indian medicine woman. The guitar ends up with a character named Thomas Builds-the-Fire, who also appeared in some earlier Alexie short stories. Builds-the-Fire starts a Native American blues band that gains popularity in the Northwest.

The story then examines the challenges faced by the Native American band members, both personal and political.

The following quote from the book gives you an idea of the depth of Alexie’s characters (Thomas Builds-the-Fire, in this case).

“Thomas," Chess said, "if you don't want to be famous and have your stories heard, then why'd you start the band up?"
"I heard voices," Thomas said. "I guess I heard voices. I mean, I'm sort of a liar, enit? I like the attention. I want strangers to love me. I don't even know why. But I want all kinds of strangers to love me."

Alexie is good at writing from the Native American point of view and giving an audience the “other side of the story.”

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