The Half-White Album by Cynthia J. Sylvester

A powerful collection of short works of fiction and nonfiction skillfully crafted to chronicle the lives and trials of native people living in a hostile world.

The Half-White Album by Cynthia J. Sylvester
University of New Mexico Press
Paperback | $19.95
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This powerful collection of various works is a perfect example of why short fiction matters. Featuring fictional and nonfictional stories and poems, highlighted by “quotes” from the members of The Covers, an itinerant band comprised of members of several ethnicities and races this book never fails to provide meaningful commentary on life in two worlds. An example of the muscularity of Sylvester’s writing comes from page 103 of the advance reader’s edition:


Because there are some things that can’t be controlled for long. Things like anger, thieves, and water. Maybe for a while they can be staved off with meditation or medication, with burglar alarms and shotguns, with dams and mills, but sooner or later anger erupts and kills or maims, thieves rob graves or boldly take something precious and personal off a limp wrist, and water floods the valley or drowns you with songs that are so sweet and haunting, a wounded soul can’t survive it.


To show, in contrast, the author’s skill in crafting emotionally touching prose, this from page 83 of the same source: “…your voice, to use old and lovely cliches, is like sunlight or moonshine warming my red clay heart, and I wonder how high is the price of admission to stay here forever? I don’t think I’ll ever have enough.”


From the reservation environs to the rundown suburban neighborhoods of Albuquerque with decaying ranch-style houses furnished with Wal-Mart furniture, from the deeply spiritual to the shamelessly pop-culture, the life of people who were born into a tradition centuries old but living in the plastic and paper world of contemporary America is shown to be a path littered with obstacles. Observing ancient rites while wearing hoodies emblazoned with the logos of professional football teams, preparing food in a time-honored way on the surfaces of formica-covered kitchen tables, always the past informs the present but the future remains clouded.


There is pain here, but also joy. All the tribulations of a people shunted aside and disrespected by the culture of the country that once was theirs but who resiliently persist in the belief that greater good will be served in a righteous way, the strength of the Dine` emerges like blossoms in spring after a long winter. This is finely crafted writing addressing meaningful issues for both native peoples and their successors to the land.