Historical fiction at its best, Black Wolf’s Return is a saga spanning 300 years, following the departure of the Nez Perce Indians, the Real People, from the lands where they grew out of the earth, created from the blood of the sea monster’s heart, tricked by Itsi-Yay-Yay, the coyote who ate him from the inside out. It tells how they were chased from the banks of the Koos-Koos-Kai-Kai river, from the prairies and the hunting grounds, to reservations far away. And it tells how generations later, as the great warrior Black Wolf had foreseen, the destiny of the Nez Perce is linked irrevocably to the black wolf.
Prize-winning writer Dan Strawn begins his stories with legend and prophecy, which he weaves together with historical characters and events, then stitches on fictional characters with their own agendas. The result is a seamless, warming narrative that is so plausible, so real, it is hard to draw the line between what is imagined and what is not. Instead, I gave myself up to the story, allowing myself to be carried along with Black Wolf’s descendants as each successive generation strives to hold on to their heritage, and ultimately to return to their homelands. Startlingly ordinary, Strawn’s prose is brutally accurate. The beauty here is not in long-winded descriptions, but the scarcity and accuracy of his observations:
“Mid-autumn, in the moon when the elks bugle: survivors, a handful.”
“Tessie and Emma sat on the couch with the stuffing coming out.”
“A faint promise of sunrise crept over the lip of the east edge of Hells Canyon.”
The ending is a surprise. Strawn could have been tempted to stage a show-down, but no musket-bearing hero rides in on horseback to reclaim what was stolen from the Nez Perce. Instead, Strawn offers readers a strong, yet quiet conclusion, and a sense of hope that the People’s heritage will live on. A story of belonging and of home, I recommend Black Wolf’s Return to all Americans, and indeed to anyone who values the ties of friendship and family.