Book Review by Ann Jonas, Tradebook Buyer - CSB/SJU Bookstores
this review was published in the St. Cloud Visitor
The Reason for Crows: A Story of Kateri Tekakwitha by Diane Glancy; State University of New York Press, 2009
Author Diane Glancy, a number of years ago, noticed the image of an Indian girl on one of the panels of the front doors of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. She subsequently researched the life of that girl, Kateri Tekakwitha, the “Lily of the Mohawks.” Glancy traveled to upstate New York, to the site of Ossernenon, on a hill above the Mohawk River, where Tekakwitha was born in 1656. She visited Caughnawaga, where Tekakwitha first met the Jesuit priests who gave her religious instruction and, in 1676, baptized her. She also drove to Kahnawake, on the south bank of the St. Lawrence River, near Montreal, where Tekakwitha died in 1680 at the age of 24. After her considerable research, Glancy wrote The Reason for Crows: A Story of Kateri Tekakwitha, a fictionalized account of the short, but hard life of Tekakwitha.
Tekakwitha’s father was a Mohawk chief and her mother was a Christian Algonquin. When she was five, a smallpox epidemic claimed her parents’ lives and left her physically scarred and partially blind. She was adopted by her two aunts and her uncle, who was also a Mohawk chief. After her baptism, the hostility of her village and her devotion to working for God caused Tekakwitha to leave her village and travel more than 200 miles to the Catholic mission of St. Francis Xavier near Montreal.
The book chronicles the hardships endured by Tekakwitha and her tribe, imagining the interior voice of Tekakwitha. It tells of her memory of her mother’s faith in Jesus and of Tekakwitha’s desire to be baptized, knowing that her uncle would not approve. Glancy writes this first person memoir in a poetic and imaginative style, giving the reader a sense of Tekakwitha’s mysticism.
Interspersed with Tekakwitha’s narratives are the voices of the Jesuit priests who brought their message to the Mohawk village. They struggled with their own challenges due to their unfamiliarity with the land, the harsh winters, and the cultural conflicts that arose when their missions were established. Their journal entries in the book suggest despair and frustration, but also determination and admiration of Tekakwitha’s spirit and courage.
Glancy, of Cherokee and German descent, states in the book’s afterword “The Catholic Church is in the process of canonizing Kateri Tekakwitha. I wanted to write a side of Tekakwitha’s story from a native perspective.” She goes on to say that historical writing is “an over layering of nonfiction with fiction. I gathered found objects of information from museums, from books, from travel to the land where the history took place.” The result is a short tale, written with beauty and intensity, that will give the reader a taste of Tekakwitha’s brief life.
The Reason for Crows is Glancy’s third book in a series of American Indian historical novels, following Stone Heart: A Novel of Sacajawea and Pushing the Bear: A Novel of the Trail of Tears. She has taught creative writing for nearly 20 years at Macalester College in St. Paul and has written ten novels, numerous short stories and poems, many with Native American themes.