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Blue Ravens

Historical Novel

Gerald Vizenor

Publication Year: 2014

Gerald Vizenor weaves an engrossing historical portrayal of Native American soldiers in World War I. Blue Ravens is set at the start of the twentieth century in the days leading up to the Great War in France, and continues in combat scenes at Château-Thierry, Montbréhain, and Bois de Fays. The novel contains many of Vizenor's recurrent cultural themes—the power and irony of trickster stories, the privilege of survivance over victimry, natural reason and resistance. After serving in the American Expeditionary Forces, two brothers from the Anishinaabe culture return to the White Earth Reservation where they grew up. They eventually leave for a second time to live in Paris where they lead successful and creative lives. With a spirited sense of "chance, totemic connections, and the tricky stories of our natural transience in the world," Vizenor creates an expression of presence commonly denied Native Americans. Blue Ravens is a story of courage in poverty and war, a human story of art and literature from a recognized master of the postwar American novel and one of the most original and outspoken Native voices writing today. Check for the online reader's companion at blueravens.site.wesleyan.edu.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-x

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1 Roman Beaks

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pp. 1-14

Aloysius Hudon Beaulieu created marvelous blue ravens that stormy summer. He painted blue ravens over the mission church, blue ravens in the clouds, celestial blue ravens with tousled manes perched on the crossbeams of the new telegraph poles near the post office, and two grotesque...

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2 Ogema Station

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pp. 15-25

Aloysius painted seven gorgeous blue ravens seated as passengers in a railroad car. The enormous wings of the spectacular ravens stretched out the windows, bright blue feathers flaunted at various angles. The passenger train seemed to be in natural flight that summer afternoon over the peneplain....

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3 Gateway Park

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pp. 26-35

The Soo Line train arrived on schedule that afternoon and we boarded as passengers on our first adventure south to the great city of Minneapolis. Augustus bought our tickets as he had promised a year earlier. We were dedicated to the promotion of the newspaper during the year and that pleased...

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4 Carnegie Totems

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pp. 36-47

The Minneapolis Public Library was only ten years old that summer of our migration, a massive stone building with magnificent curved bay windows. The turrets on two corners resembled a baronial river castle, but the books inside were never the reserved property of the nobility....

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5 Peace Medals

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pp. 48-59

Odysseus arrived as usual on horseback that early summer but his familiar songs were faint and unsteady. In the past summers we could hear the sonorous voice of the trader at a great distance. His hearty songs were gestures of amity on the reservation....

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6 Peyote Opera

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pp. 60-69

Odysseus was sentimental at times about the old traders and chantey music. His trail stories and songs about soldiers and war were picturesque, slightly romantic, original by every recount, but never mawkish. Even so the winsome trader was teased for the first time last summer about the many songs he chanted from the American Civil War....

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7 Blue Horses

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pp. 70-78

The First World War was underway, but the news reports of faraway military encounters hardly mattered on the reservation that summer. We were curious, and the names, empires, and places of the war were strange. We practiced the accent of names in the news to hawk the Tomahawk at the Ogema Station....

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8 Snow Eggs

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pp. 79-87

John Leecy delivered formal invitations to Aloysius Hudon Beaulieu and Basile Hudon Beaulieu, mere stable boys, to supper in the hotel dining room with Odysseus, Doctor Mendor, Catherine Heady, the federal teacher, and our mighty uncle Augustus Hudon Beaulieu....

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9 Shadow Draft

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pp. 88-95

Augustus Hudon Beaulieu died on August 8, 1917. The news hurt my heart, but memories of his tease and confidence would last forever. He was praised for his integrity, humor, and for his dedication to native rights and liberty. Our favorite uncle was honored by hundreds of friends and thousands of...

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10 Gas Attack

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pp. 96-106

Augustus arrived at the livery stable one early morning last spring, a few months before his death, to talk about the war. He was aware that we had registered for the draft, and several cousins had already been mustered for service. Our uncle was worried that so many young native men, and...

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11 Saâcy-Sur-Marne

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pp. 107-111

The Mount Vernon cut through the haze and slight crests of waves that early morning, a camouflaged troopship on course near the west coast of Brittany. The gray decks were wet and cold, and the sunrise was muted in thin clouds. My heart beat faster when noisy sea gulls circled the four giant...

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12 Château-Thierry

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pp. 112-125

Aloysius told the sergeant that early morning that he was a native artist in a union of three armies, the sum of three times his military service. The sergeant heard only the precious word “artist” and ordered my brother to latrine duty, to carve a crapper pit in the thicket near the river. Later we ...

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13 Vesle River

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pp. 126-133

Aloysius painted one, three, four, and seven blue ravens, never more in one scene, and with a trace of black and rouge. He painted in the back of trucks on the rough roads to war, at meals, and even in the beam and roar of enemy bombardments. My brother carried the paste of three colors in a ...

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14 Montbréhain

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pp. 134-140

Margaret, our mother, wrote that she had read newspaper stories in the Tomahawk about the major offensives against the Germans at the Vesle River and Fismes in France. She mentioned several divisions and places of combat but she never expressed her worries directly. My stories were...

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15 Pont des Arts

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pp. 141-150

The German government had consented to end the war on November 11, 1918. Yes, a mere promise between generals, an agreement to cease the brutality, but never an actual declaration of surrender. The armistice was formally signed in a railway carriage in Forêt de Compiègne, the Compiègne...

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16 Galerie Crémieux

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pp. 151-167

Aloysius Hudon Beaulieu became one of those great artists inspired by the ancient vitality of the River Seine. My brother created a surge of blue waves on the river, and he painted a blue raven with enormous translucent wing feathers spread across the entire entrance to the Pont des Arts....

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17 Deceit of Peace

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pp. 168-171

The First Pioneer Infantry marched down the dock at Le Port Militaire in Brest and one by one the regiments boarded the shabby steamship Ancon. The departure was solemn that early summer, no salutes or martial music to honor the soldiers who had defended the French Third Republic....

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18 Banquet Français

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pp. 172-189

The Soo Line Railroad engineer sounded the screechy whistle four times as the train approached the decorated platform of the Ogema Station. The soldiers on the train were mostly our relatives, fur trade boys from the White Earth Reservation....

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19 War Maggots

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pp. 190-195

Bad Boy Lake reflected the bright colors of maple, birch, and sumac that autumn. The crowns of red sumac and golden birch shimmered on the water, and the hue and sway of leaves became abstract scenes with the slightest breeze. The course of bright waves and the natural motion of color...

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20 Orpheum Theatre

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pp. 196-210

Patch Zhimaaganish had been invited to audition as a singer and trumpet player for the vaudeville orchestra at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. Baron Davidson, a friend and fellow bugle player from the First Pioneer Infantry, had arranged the audition. Baron worked on the stage crew at the...

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21 Mona Lisa

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pp. 211-218

John Leecy was concerned, of course, but not surprised that we had quit our jobs as theater stagehands, and then decided to become expatriate native artists, a painter and a writer, in Paris. He respected our ambitions, and he actually assumed that we would have returned much earlier to France....

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22 École Indienne

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pp. 219-236

The River Seine shimmered and curved with an eternal smile, and the natural traces of that disguise were underway on the waves of winter lights. The reflections never slighted tinkers on the stone, wounded veterans, wanderers, and trusty fishermen who steadied the stream that morning....

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23 Après Guerre

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pp. 237-258

Paris was a sanctuary that year for posers and at least seven expatriate native veterans of the First World War. The City of Light was our solace and bright promise, and, at the same time, an easy retreat for the many pretenders, native and otherwise....

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24 Mutilés de Guerre

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pp. 259-285

Aloysius Hudon Beaulieu was a visionary painter inspired by natural motion and waves of color, by abstract contours, shadows, and that marvelous brush of flight in the original portrayals by native stone, hide, bark, and ledger artists, and by the ethereal succession of blues in scenes by Marc...

About the Author

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p. 286-286

E-ISBN-13: 9780819574176
E-ISBN-10: 0819574171
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819574169

Page Count: 300
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Brothers -- Fiction.
  • War stories. -- gsafd.
  • Historical fiction. -- gsafd.
  • Indians of North America -- Fiction.
  • Ojibwa Indians -- Fiction.
  • World War, 1914-1918 -- Fiction.
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