It begins with two young Lakota boys, ages 10 and 6, huddled in a boxcar as they run from a government agent sent to take the younger boy to an Indian boarding school. But what begins as a pursuit soon becomes a complex human drama as lives intersect, and the boys make their way to the pipestone quarries of western Minnesota to replace their great-grandfather’s chanupa that was broken by a government agent.
The cast of characters is rich and sympathetically rendered. A middle-aged wanderer grieving for his deceased dog and seeking a place to put his life together; a Lakota woman and her ex-seminarian husband struggling to overcome an unspeakable tragedy while trying to eke out a living on the unforgiving South Dakota prairie; their elderly Dakotah friend and neighbor, confined to a wheelchair since an accident in her youth and now watching over the collection of artifacts left her by her grandfather; a Black traveling troubadour who makes his living singing spirituals in small towns across the Midwest; the mixed-blood government agent who is pursuing the boys; their watchful great grandfather whose chanupa they are trying to replace; the boys’ distant and vigilant mother, who bears the wounds of her people as a cultural and personal burden; and, of course, the boys, one dreaming of a worthy manhood and one who is, as his brother says, “other minded.” And at the center of it all, drawing them together in ways that none of them really understands, is the chanupa, or sacred pipe.
Written from multiple first-person points of view that allow the characters to tell their stories in their distinctive voices, Lone Dog Road is far more than simply a picaresque novel of closely observed characters, it is an exploration of the complex corners of the struggling human heart and a study of the way the land shapes the people who live and love and dream and grieve upon it.
Kent Nerburn has been praised by Native writers Winona LaDuke, Joseph Marshall, III, Joseph Bruchac, and Leonard Peltier. His insight into the American historical experience has been lauded by historians Howard Zinn and Robert Utley. And his literary skills have been praised by Margaret Atwood and Louise Erdrich.
In Lone Dog Road, he combines these skills to write a sprawling, yet deeply intimate novel in the grand American road tradition—a journey through the inner and outer landscapes of the plains and prairies of the great American west.
“This is one of those rare works that once you’ve read it, you can never look at the world, or at people, the same way again.” – American Indian College on Neither Wolf nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder