At a time when some writers have tried to pass off fiction as memoirs, Sherman Alexie has taken a different tact. He has written The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, a novel based on his experiences as an Indian attending an all-white school. In an interview with Rick Margolis of School Library Journal (August 2007, p. 29), he explains that he had written 450 pages of a family memoir and part of it just did not fit the rest thematically. He said readers would hardly believe it anyway, so he made it into a novel for teens to fill a promise that he had made to write such a book. The resulting book has been widely praised in reviews and won a National Book Award.
So there may be a more serious memoir still coming. I suspect that too might be powerful reading. I enjoyed The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian thoroughly, but one thought nags at me. With the exception of his family support, his depiction of the reservation is almost totally negative. Everyone has given up on life and turned to alcohol. This broad generalization is probably more acceptable in a teen novel because it is part of the hero's feelings more than objective truth. It will be interesting to see how he portrays the reservation in a memoir.
I also wonder how the Indian community views this book. I think about The Oldest Rookie by Jim Morris, part of which takes place in my hometown. It is fortunate for Morris that he no longer works there (he commuted in daily so he never actually lived there), as the locals mostly did not like the book. Truth hurts. Also, Morris may not have been totally fair.
I hope Alexie keeps writing for readers of all ages. The success of this book should encourage it.
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Little, Brown and Company, 2007. ISBN 9780316013680