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Reviews 285 Sacred Clowns. By Tony Hillerman. (New York: HarperCollins, 1993. 305 pages, $23.00.) This is, if I count right, the eleventh novel by Tony Hillerman featuring either Jim Chee or Joe Leaphorn or both. The title, Sacred Clowns, is a little misleading, because that is not what the book is really about. The title refers to those people, in and out of Native American culture, whose job it is to show us portraits of ourselves: greedy, grasping, and foolish. What the book is really about, more than any other Hillerman novel, is hozho, the Navajo ideal of harmony and balance. In Sacred Clowns Hillerman expands the concept of hozho, a theme intro­ duced in earlier novels, developing our understanding of the concept through a series of contrasts. We are introduced, for instance, to a new character, Sgt. Harold Blizzard, a Pawnee, who is as alien to Navajo culture as any white man, and we learn more aboutJanet Pete, who is half Navajo. The contrast neatly set out is not so much white/Navajo as it is City In-dun (the Navajo way of pronouncing the word) versus Reservation In-dun. Neither Janet Pete nor Blizzard understands what it means to be a Native American on the “big rez.” Most of these contrasts are tied in some way or another toJim Chee, who is the lead character in the novel (though Leaphorn is by no means absent).Chee keeps seeing the contrasts and trying to resolve them. In one scene, for instance, Chee is driving through a Navajo agricultural project. One side of his mind applauds the energy and initiative of the Navajo in making the desert produc­ tive; another side of his mind wants the desert to stay the same as it was in the days of First Man. In another scene, Chee is discussing justice with Janet Pete. He says, “The question is belagaanijustice or Navajo justice. Or maybe it’s, Do you try for punishment or do you try for hozho." We learn in Sacred Clowns that hozho is not only balance but a willingness to accept the inevitable. Thus hozhoenables the Navajo to accommodate change. A loss of hozhomeans stagnation, and, ultimately, decline. This is a pivotal point in the novel, illustrated dramatically when Chee, in order to resolve a personal conflict, consults his uncle and mentor, Hosteen Nakai, along with two other hataalii, or shamans. Chee comes to realize that these hataalii cling to the “old ways”so fiercely that their intransigence becomes a denial of hozho. As for the plot, it’s vintage Hillerman. There are coincidences that aren’t, and an intricate mystery to unravel. There is romance instead of sex, the violence is comfortably off stage, and the novel is dominated by the huge empty scape of the reservation. It will be two or three readings before I can decide whether Sacred Clowns is as good as Skinwalkers, my personal favorite, but a Hillerman is a Hillerman is a Hillerman. RONALD SHOOK Utah State University ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
p. 285
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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