People of the Whale Background

People of the Whale Background

People of the Whale is a novel by Linda Hogan, published in 2008. It tells the story of a Native American man named Thomas who loses both himself and his heritage after joining the army during the Vietnam War, and developing post traumatic stress disorder afterwards. The novel is divided into three sections, two written mostly from Thomas' point of view, and one from the point of view of his daughter, Lin. The chapters in the book range from a couple of pages, to more than thirty, yet this never disrupts the flow of the story, and adds to the fractured nature of Thomas' life after his return from Vietnam.

This is a story about several things; it is a tale of a soldier who is so deeply traumatized by his experiences in the war that he never manages to get the war to leave him. It is the story of a clash of cultures; Thomas falls in love with both a Vietnamese woman and Vietnam itself, but is removed from the country by the American forces and returned to his reservation. It is the story of a man's struggle to stay true to his tribe and his heritage whilst participating in events that require him to be the polar opposite of both. It is also the story of Native American culture and history. The author interweaves mystical tales of undersea creatures who can walk on the earth, ancient elders who enable a man to be reincarnated, and a magic man who can make it rain again after a drought with the everyday battles fought within a tribe that is disintegrating due to a few bad apples in the barrel, determined to pollute the entire barrel along with them.

Linda Hogan is half Chickasaw Indian, her father having been a Chickasaw from an historically-recognized family. Hogan's mother was of white heritage, giving Hogan a unique insight from her own experience into the cultural pull that exists between the two. Hogan was greatly influenced by her uncle, Wesley Henderson, who was instrumental in helping the Native American families forced to relocate to Denver due to the Relocation Act. She also experienced military life, her father being a member of the U.S. military, taking his family to Germany for three years. Hogan is a storyteller who descends from a long line of storytellers, and she is also an environmentalist which is evident in this novel; her respect for the whale that the tribal council kills is pivotal to both the story, and the way in which Thomas comes to review his life.

Hogan was inducted into the Chakasaw Hall of Fame in 2007, and in 2016 was awarded the Thoreau Prize.

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