Review: Between Earth and Sky by Amanda Skenandore

Oh my word.

This book took the very air from my lungs.

I had high expectations for Between Earth and Sky. The poetry of the title intrigued me, as did the haunting plot description and vibrant cover.

Alma is a haunted woman. Her troubled state is obvious, but the misery of her past is a mystery to the reader – and to her loyal husband Stewart.

When Alma convinces Stewart, a lawyer, to defend Harry, a childhood friend convicted of murder, her memories of Stover School for Indians (her father’s establishment) begin to resurface. Harry’s trial along with Alma and Stewart’s quest to prove him innocent evokes memories and emotions in Alma she had long-buried. This uncovering of the past leads Alma to question all she grew up believing.

Between the alternating accounts of Alma’s past and present, I learned of the injustices done to the Native Americans, and the heart wrenching grief that encompasses both Alma and that of her Native friends.

She grew up calling these children sister and brother, they gave her an Indian name and allowed her to dance at their secret night time meetings. She giggled in bed with the other school-girls and forgot the color of their skin. She fell passionately in love with an Indian boy. She was happy and believed her friends to be as well.

While there was happiness at Stover School, Alma failed to recognize as a child that teaching the “red skins” to become like the white man, was not equality. Equality is not the absence of individuality.

As she reflects on her past, visits her old friends and their reservation (a place of great poverty and corruption) the memories she suppressed out of sorrow, come crashing over her, and she must come to grips with the injustice of her father’s school and cherished ideals.

I have not been able to stop thinking about this book. I’ve read about the injustices done to the Native Americans. I knew my country, my country that was founded on the principles of freedom and equality for all men, had terribly wronged and robbed these people.

But this book pushed that knowledge like a knife into my heart. It was tragic. The pathos of the story seeped into my skin and soul and has not left.

Some say that the displacement and erasing of the Native American people is the greatest genocide in history. While all genocide is equally heinous (the horrors to the Holocaust come to mind), there is truth in this statement. The murdering of Natives began when Columbus set foot in the Bahamas and continued on for centuries. This nation of people was stripped of their humanity.

What is most heartbreaking about this genocide is that it was not just one of physical murder. It was one that attempted to murder the spirit of the Natives, to strip them of their cultural identity and worth as individuals.

Stover School embodied this. The school attempted to rob the Native children of their cultural identity by telling them they must learn the white man’s way. By ingraining in them the idea that their culture is worthless. By indoctrinating them with lies that they cannot be valuable unless they are like the white man.

Tears fill my eyes when I think about it.

We did so much wrong to them. So horribly much. How could we call them savages and murders when we were the ones who continually cheated, robbed, slandered, and murdered them?

And all this often occurred in the name of Christianity.

It’s no wonder Christianity is viewed in such a horrid light when it has been so misconstrued. Jesus promised forgiveness for all who come to Him. Forgiveness for the red, black, yellow, and white man alike.

When Alma realizes the enormity of the evil done to her friends, her mission to save Harry (Asku in his native language) becomes one of atonement. She yearns for redemption for the wrongs of her father, for her own blindness, for the evil she believes she caused.

In saving her friend, she wants to prove that her life, and the lives of those around her were not worthless.

She’s afraid that if she doesn’t succeed, all the hurt and all the good will have been in vain.

The theme of redemption in this book is powerful, as is the forgiveness.

It was evident Alma’s quest to save Asku, in her marriage, in her past, and in Asku’s own plight.

The metaphor of the title became a sorrowful lament. One of the characters tells Alma, their worlds are like the earth and sky. They run parallel to one another but can never coexisist. They can only touch.

Tragically, this truth is scattered throughout American history. For all the freedom and equality we speak of, there has never been much peace between the worlds of the white and red man.

This was a hard read, an achingly beautiful but difficult read. Skenandore’s prose is vivid, concrete yet metaphorical. The story itself was intriguing, soaring, tragic, and deeply thought-provoking. It shattered my heart. What was done to the Native Americans was genocide. We killed them, not only in body, but in spirit. There is so much, so much we overlook in American history and this book did a wonderful job shedding light on what has been hidden in the shadows.

“And one day there will be no more frontier. And men like you will go too, like the Mohicans. And new people will come, work, struggle. Some will make their life.     But once, we were here.”

The Last of the Mohicans

Between Earth and Sky.jpg

(Images in collage from Pinterest.)

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