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The Blessing Way: 10/08/22

The Blessing Way

The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman and George Guidall (Narrator) (1970) is the first of a long running series, one that the original author's daughter has taken over writing. With her books included, the series includes twenty-five books as of 2022. I originally reviewed the book ten years ago as I was making my way through the series in order for the first time. I thought it might be interesting to revisit that first review having now read all the books in the series, save for the most current one, The Sacred Bridge.

Put into perspective of this reader's life time, the series is three years older than I am. The oldest character in the book, a hataalii who complains that the younger generations don't know how to behave during a sing, states he's 82 year old, as far as he can reckon. That would put his birthday in 1888.

Put another way, Joe Leaphorn, the young detective here, is still old enough to have fought in Korea. That was twenty years before this novel, meaning he's probably thirty-eight. By the current novel, Leaphorn is older than the oldest character in The Blessing Way.

This first novel introduces the Navajo Nation landscape, the people, and their culture. But all of these introductions are done by a white man who had studied them. Although the mystery is primarily from Leaphorn's perspective, he is a fictional Diné from the imagination of a white dude.

In Hillerman's attempts to sound authentic, he ends up highlighting his perceived otherness of the culture he's portraying. He includes ceremonies and beliefs and history in a way that on a second read comes off as heavy handed. It's not that a person doesn't fully partake in their culture, but it's often not with the same amount of focus that Hillerman gives the majority of his characters.

Despite all the flaws of this series and especially of this first novel, I still like the book. A lot of that lands on George Guidall's performance. He has a soothing voice and is able to breath some dimensionality into characters who come off as flat in print.

The second book is Dance Hall of the Dead (1973).

Four stars

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