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A Good High Place

L.E. Kimball

Publication Year: 2010

In an abridged translation that retains the grace and passion of the original, Klots and Ufberg present the stunning memoir of a young woman who became an actress in the Gulag. Tamara Petkevich had a relatively privileged childhood in the beautiful, impoverished Petrograd of the Soviet regime’s early years, but when her father—a fervent believer in the Communist ideal-was arrested, 17-year- old Tamara was branded a “daughter of the enemy of the people.” She kept up a search for her father while struggling to support her mother and two sisters, finish school, and enter university. Shortly before the Russian outbreak of World War II, Petkevich was forced to quit school, and against her better judgment, she married an exiled man whom she had met in the lines at the information bureau of the NKVD (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs). Her mother and one sister perished in the Nazi siege of Leningrad, and Petkevich was herself arrested. With cinematic detail, Petkevich relates her attempts to defend herself against absurd charges of having a connection to the Leningrad terrorist center, counter-revolutionary propaganda, and anti-Semitism that resulted in a sentence of seven years’ hard labor in the Gulag. While Petkevich became a professional actress in her own right years after her release from the Gulag, she learned her craft on the stages of the camps scattered across the northern Komi Republic. The existence of prisoner theaters and troupes of political prisoners such as the one Petkevich joined is a little-known fact of Gulag life. Petkevich’s depiction not only provides a unique firsthand account of this world-within-a-world but also testifies to the power of art to literally save lives. As Petkevich moves from one form of hardship to another, she retains her desire to live and her ability to love. More than a firsthand record of atrocities committed in Stalinist Russia, Memoir of a Gulag Actress is an invaluable source of information on the daily life and culture of the Soviet Union at the time. Russian literature about the Gulag remains vastly underrepresented in the United States, and Petkevich’s unforgettable memoir will go a long way toward filling this gap. Supplemented with photographs from the author’s personal archive, Petkevich’s story will be of great interest to general readers while providing an important resource for historians, political scientists, and students of Russian culture and history.

Published by: Northern Illinois University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-6

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-viii

I have always been fascinated with time, the nonlinear and synchronistic way in which we experience it. The people and events in our lives float up to us much like those Halloween apples we bobbed for in our childhoods, seemingly randomly, yet never quite that, informing and forever changing the direction of our lives, ...

Luella

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pp. 3-4

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Chapter 1

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pp. 5-9

The thing about closeness is that you can choose it, or it can happen anyhow. And you don’t have to be friends to be close; a murderer has to achieve an approximate closeness to his victim, after all. Ours has been the kind of closeness that results when two people have been taken hostage or suspended indefinitely between floors in an Otis elevator. ...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 10-20

Something I discovered early is that boat names are not parceled out willy-nilly but rather on a first-come, first-served basis: first daughter, first love, first original (or unoriginal) thought—those kinds of priorities. And names can be confusing. ...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 21-29

Ken offered to take care of the yard in Birmingham until I could tie up loose ends and get the house sold. A steady, apologetic sort of man, the kind who looks at you long. Older than me by five years or so. Thing is, the only men who interested me after Duke died happened to be younger. Henry, for instance. Good dancer. ...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 30-34

I moved from the Inn to the Lamson house this morning, though it will be a week before my things arrive from downstate. There’s a small bathroom mirror here, the modern kind, white metal with an easily accessed and infinitely annoying door that swings on rusty hinges and seems to invite strangers to poke through intimate details of your life. ...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 35-40

Uncle George gives me two journals for my sixteenth birthday, January 28, 1915. They are made of soft brown leather, and I run my fingers down one silky cover. He says he gave them to me because he figures I must be getting sick of other people’s words and might like to write down a few of my own, but I don’t write them. ...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 41-44

Deserving of honor since she was sixteen or active in Elk Rapids since she was sixteen? The Progress never did let syntax stand in the way of a good story. ...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 45-49

I was out on the front porch sweeping off the dead branches and winter debris when Clark Gable (John Mitchell) happened by, apparently on one of his morning walks. He wanted to chat, but I was in my terry-cloth robe, so I waved and headed for the door. He gave me a quick salute, fingers touching the brim of the flat, plaid wool cap he was wearing. ...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 50-54

The day in the doctor’s office a few weeks back is on my mind as I watch Keane fish. The river splits around a couple small islands here. It’s wider immediately before the fork, and he’s standing at the wide spot backcasting. Gracefully. False casting part of the time, stripping out line, casting the exact spot I’d seen the trout rise. ...

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Chapter 9

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pp. 55-58

Why do they call grave markers headstones? A figurative thing, probably, and head rock doesn’t have the same ring to it. I can never figure out which side of the stone the people are on anyway. Sometimes, even though the person’s head is toward the stone, the marker is on the wrong side of the grave. ...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 59-61

Dampness encroached through the open kitchen window, making short work of my thin flannel robe. A rosebush whipped in the breeze, making scraping noises against the house’s clapboard siding. Visible scratches in the white boards had long needed a new coat of paint. I pulled the window shut and felt the stiffness under my right arm, ...

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Chapter 11

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pp. 62-66

Ever since Uncle George started spending a night now and then over at Town Hall as a guest of Sheriff Kittle, no one seemed to want to talk about him, period. That’s what they’d say: I’m not talking about George, period. Even before she died, my grandmother would not talk about him, even though he was the one who took care of her for weeks ...

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Chapter 12

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pp. 67-68

So I tell him. To be a good teacher you have to be inspired, need to like children, need to be passionate about imparting some particular gift to eager young minds. I tell him that is what Mr. James, the principal, says about teaching. And Mr. James is also fond of saying that teachers must believe in the potential of all children or they would do teaching a grave injustice. ...

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Chapter 13

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pp. 69-77

I no longer avoid the stables when Keane is working. In fact, I make a point of going. Sometimes I help him pitch hay or shovel manure, but today I watch. Keane is looking at me crossly as he spreads straw behind Adam’s slip stall. Keane is seventeen and still hasn’t filled out, but there are bunchy muscles forming in his wide shoulders and along his forearms, and I know it won’t be long. ...

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Chapter 14

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pp. 78-80

We sit and stare off across Grand Traverse Bay, which, if you look at a map, extends from Lake Michigan like a large molar with two insidious roots into the northwest portion of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Elk Rapids sits on the far outside, midway up on the easternmost root, like an insistent cavity. ...

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Chapter 15

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pp. 81-84

You’re here, she said. Erma Townsend tells me you’ve bought this house. I don’t see anything of you at all, and you’ve been here how long—a week? ...

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Chapter 16

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pp. 85-86

But I went, of course. I stayed with Topini and Keane while Kachina went off and did errands so Mary Crowfeather wouldn’t have to. I won’t remark on how he looked. You know how someone looks who’s about to die. And what’s the use of talking about him dying and how well he’ll do it, with all we had to say to each other. ...

Kachina

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pp. 87-88

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Chapter 17

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pp. 89-91

The Day beams down on her, squeezes between the slats of the wigwam, kisses her on the cheek. Good, she thinks. If The Day smiles, Hototo will take me fishing with him. The Day tugs her along, coaxes her to an open window where she can see Hototo already down by the lake. Hototo is seven, and that makes Kachina five. ...

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Chapter 18

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pp. 92-95

Kachina expected that as time dulled her, she would lose her taste for sweet-salty things like sex and food. But it hasn’t happened like that; she has an almost constant need. She feeds it with buckwheat cakes or corn bread laced with butter and maple, sometimes with smoked whitefish, dune morels, or crushed hot chestnuts. ...

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Chapter 19

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pp. 96-98

The rain stops now, and the sun peaks through the east window. She pulls off the rug, opens the sash so she’ll have air while she works. She lives alone in this cabin Keane built for her. Rather it is she and Topini. Here in the river bog that speaks to her, the place she can feel The Day best (or could feel it). ...

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Chapter 20

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pp. 99-104

By the early 1900s, many of the Anishinaabek had become Christians, and/or given Gizhe Manido a new short white name. A few are Catholic, but in Elk Rapids, most are Methodist. Kachina walks beside her mother, Izusa, holding Topini’s hand on their way to the morning service. The holes in Kachina’s hand-me-down boots collect pebbles that jab into the bottoms of her feet. ...

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Chapter 21

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pp. 105-113

But at least Kachina had known who she was then. She pulls her gray wool sweater over her head and Topini’s red one over hers. They will walk from Bass Lake into town and see if they can find some wax or an appropriate oil at the hardware store to refinish the old table. Nothing with any tint to it. Kachina wants the natural color of the wood to show through. ...

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Chapter 22

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pp. 114-118

They pick up rocks, sticks, she and Luella, but they are useless because the two bodies are a continuous blur. Keane is big for his age and, incredibly, Kachina thinks, stronger than the dog. As they roll, Keane gets his hands around the dog’s neck but can’t get a firm grip. The rain has stopped. Kachina listens, but The Day leaves a gap, like a giant pause, over them all. ...

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Chapter 23

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pp. 119-122

Money. There hadn’t been enough the other day to buy the oil to finish the table. Money doesn’t go far these days, that’s for sure. She was able to get the rest of the sandpaper she needed during yesterday’s trip to the store, but that was all. Old John Quailfeather had been in the paint aisle, but when he saw her, he changed aisles. ...

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Chapter 24

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pp. 123-128

Kachina thinks spring will never come and she’ll stay seventeen forever, but at last the days stretch out. The temperature reaches the high forties, and though her heart remains frozen, the maple starts to run. There are murky, watery-looking patches mixed with the charcoal gray ice in Bass Lake, ...

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Chapter 25

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pp. 129-130

She’d seated herself down by the bay in the shadows of the gijik, the great medicine tree she likes to sit under to gather her strength. Hototo told her how the roots of the gijik extend to the underworld while its very tip breaks through the heavens. It has great power of health and knowledge. ...

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Chapter 26

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pp. 131-137

Kachina adds a ham bone to the pot of stew, along with a bit of extra ham, a can of red beans, and then sliced potatoes, a satisfying meal to leave for Topini and Mary Crowfeather since she’ll sit tonight with Keane. She gets out the measuring spoons and adds two teaspoons of dried sage and two of dried thyme, a tablespoon of salt, and a teaspoon of pepper. ...

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Chapter 27

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pp. 138-145

Several weeks after Topini had been lost in the woods, they come for her. “For her own good,” they say. It seems the “good” ladies of Elk Rapids are worried about Topini. Nothing that should be taken personally, they say. She is too much for one person to take care of properly. Surely Izusa can see that? ...

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Chapter 28

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pp. 146-151

On Sunday morning, Kachina refuses coffee but gratefully accepts one of the wool blankets. She nods her gratitude and leaves Luella shaking her head and Uncle George sipping coffee under another blessedly pleasant spring morning sky. When she reaches the walk, Kachina takes off the rubber coat and sits on it, pulling the blanket around her shoulders, ...

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Chapter 29

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pp. 152-155

It was unusual for her mood not to match that of The Day back then. It’s something that won’t occur for many years. She’s not sure what’s causing it now. But The Day seems almost to be teasing her. There is that unformed, cloying feeling, like awakening from a bad dream you can’t quite recall, or would rather not. ...

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Chapter 30

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pp. 156-165

His hair is wet. He’s been swimming in the river as she’d first supposed, up closer to the lake where it’s deeper. On calm days like this, the upper levels of the lake will be warm, two feet or so of warm water. But down at the bottom, it’s cold. A clear glaciated lake, spring fed. In about another month, it will turn upside down. ...

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Chapter 31

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pp. 166-168

Kachina and Topini walk into Morrison’s Hardware, the years and chances settled now to where they belong. She needs that oil for the scars in the table, the ones she’s decided to enhance. The man behind the counter wearing a cotton apron wipes his hands down the whiteness of it and greets her with a half smile. ...

Luella

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pp. 169-170

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Chapter 32

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pp. 171-174

Other people’s words, as Uncle George referred to them, poke at me. They drift along on the surface of my brain like jagged pieces of rotting driftwood. It’s not the uttered words that stink; I can always skim those off and discard them like globs of congealing fat. It’s the unuttered words that settle, the sedimentary words. ...

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Chapter 33

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pp. 175-176

Uncle George isn’t there the night Mama dies. He’s gone to Alden to try to find Doc Mulcahey and bring him back. It’s snowing, the Torch River Bridge impassable, so he has to leave the team at Hendersons’ farm and use snowshoes from there. Six hours in the blizzard, six hours back to the team once Uncle George finds Doc Mulcahey. ...

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Chapter 34

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pp. 177-181

I turned eighteen years old this last January, which makes Keane nineteen, nearly, and Kachina seventeen. Topini is about eleven. Uncle George, despite being ill, has packed us all four, bag and baggage, into the democrat wagon and driven us to Suttons Bay for the opening couple days of the Redpath DeLuxe Seven-Day Circuit, the Big Chautauqua Special, ...

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Chapter 35

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pp. 182-186

The next two days of the festival hold a big schedule of events. I had read in the newspaper about how the chautauqua festivals were first formed in New York thirty years ago for the purpose of improving schools, establishing libraries, and enlightening teachers. According to the Progress, they taught Hebrew, Greek, French, and German, classical history and literature. ...

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Chapter 36

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pp. 187-188

It happens the next night, after the Penobscot Indian princess has left the stage. I’d taken Topini to the outhouse. But instead of sitting down when we come back, I stand with the child at the entrance to the tent. The soft glow from the hanging lanterns turns Kachina’s skin the color of cocoa or more like the maple syrup they collected. ...

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Chapter 37

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pp. 189-193

We stop, Kachina and me, next to a small tent the color of unbleached muslin, one of many located behind the larger chautauqua performance tent. A woman of about forty is sitting behind a dark mahogany table, and on that table rests a large doily, and on that sits a white, androgynous bust of the human head sculpted of clay ...

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Chapter 38

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pp. 194-197

Trout don’t like to feed in the middle of a drought. I’ve never understood that. Who has it better in the middle of a drought than a fish? If there wasn’t so much as a damned olive hatching, you’d think the trout would be so hungry they’d take a chance, visible or not. But I’m not expecting to see flies coming off the water and I’m sure not expecting to see a fish. ...

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Chapter 39

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pp. 198-202

I see dozens of people stooped over in the fields hoeing and picking vegetables in the hot sun: beans and corn from what I can see. Some are leading cattle toward the low white outbuildings in the back. Some are employees; others volunteer. (They understood the benefits of sweat back then. Therapy, they called it. I called it enterprising.) ...

Cap

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pp. 203-204

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Chapter 40

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pp. 205-212

I got the dynamite from the old Dexter & Noble lumber camp at Grass River. They always keep enough to blow a hundred logjams to kingdom come, and I don’t need much. I been workin’ there winters so many years, I know nobody’ll think twice ’bout seeing me round there or miss the little bit of blast I need for my purposes. ...

Luella

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pp. 213-214

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Chapter 41

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pp. 215-218

We never found out where he got the dynamite. He had plenty of access to it around the lumber camps. We knew that. He wasn’t so crazy that he didn’t know the times were changing and there would be no place in it for him soon. ...

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Chapter 42

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pp. 219-222

Several years back, I ran into Keane on one of my vacations. I came often to see Topini and would see him then, of course, but this time I ran into him alone near the island on a Saturday about noon. He was getting into a small dinghy and carrying a bag of groceries and some fishing gear, heading to his house. ...

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Chapter 43

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pp. 223-225

Kachina invites me to come out to the island after the funeral. Anytime I feel like it, she said. And I plan to do that. But I’m hungry for trout, and my first inclination is to fish for it. ...

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Chapter 44

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pp. 226-236

I found something out early on when I first started writing in my journal that Uncle George gave me, something I’ve realized now about my life: without these words, I cannot exist. ...

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Epilogue

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pp. 237-240

We draw pictures when we’re new. We draw them like you would. Houses and trees, stick people, stick dogs, empty clouds. Nothing unusual. But what surprises you all is that most of us fill up the whole page—the air, the sky—with shapes: circles and squares, often with dots or even a triangle. ...

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Author’s Note

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pp. 241-242

First a word about the name Kachina. The word in Ojibwe means “dancer” and in my mind seemed to fit my character so well, as a shaman would so often dance during prayer and healing ceremonies, a joining with the motion of the universe and with God. ...


E-ISBN-13: 9781609090029
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875806358

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2010

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