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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Designs of the Night Sky by Diane Glancy. Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, 2002. ISBN: 0803221908

This book is dedicated “To native students at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and in colleges everywhere.” The main character is a rare books and manuscripts librarian at said university, which is what caused me to read the book, since I am always interested in how librarians are portrayed in literature, being a librarian, myself.

Although the book is described as a novel, it is certainly not a traditional one. The book consists of many short segments (the term “chapter” hardly applies). There are two major streams, story lines, I suppose you’d call them, although they barely qualify for that designation. One is current, and consists of the complicated and often dysfunctional lives of the librarian’s family, Native Americans of Cherokee ancestry, including her parents, her brothers, spouses and all of their children.

The second stream is historical, and consists of information about the Cherokee forced migration from the southeast to the Okalahoma “Indian Territory” in the 1830’s. Wrapped around these two streams are thoughts, musings, verbal images, flights of fancy, often poetic in nature, dealing with, as described in the author’s preface “the meaning of written language in a Native American culture based on a history of oral tradition.” You will undoubtedly remember that Sequoyah, a member of the Cherokee tribe, invented a form of alphabet for writing the Cherokee language.

Other themes that permeate the book to a lesser extent include modern physics (the librarian’s husband teaches physics at the university), roller skating (a favorite activity of the protagonist), Christianity (the librarian and most of her family are church members), and its clash with traditional Cherokee beliefs. Not your normal kind of reading, perhaps, but definitely worth the effort.

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