SEARCHING FOR LOST CITY: On the Trail of America's Native Languages
by Elizabeth Seay.
Condition: NEW 2004 Lyons Trade Paperback, first printing. First Prize, Multicultural Non-Fiction, Independent Publishers.
Content: Seay writes hauntingly about the efforts to preserve Native American languages in her home state of Oklahoma in this lyrical, if occasionally solipsistic, travel history. Seay begins her expedition with the intent of finding a "lost city" populated solely by speakers of a Native American language. Eventually, however, she finds herself learning Cherokee from an elderly man and becoming part of the effort to preserve that language from extinction. Early in her work, Seay declares that "the languages seemed to be receding as I raced toward them" and that sense of imminent disappearance propels her narrative. Many of the people she meets, including Quese Frejo, a Native American hip-hop artist, Charles Chibitty, who used his native tongue as a code talker in World War II and Seay's own Cherokee teacher, Alex Sawney, are people of careful words and compelling insight. Frejo, for example, says that "the melting pot doesn't consist of Native Americans, so when I come into a hip-hop
event it kind of blows them away." Though Seay's ruminations may occasionally strike readers as self-absorbed, the author bravely recognizes that as a "tall skinny white woman" she's something of an interloper in another culture's world, and she doesn't shy away from describing how this role affected her interviews. Above all, her interest is with Native American languages, and with the threats to their survival. Her conclusion on this topic is not simple: she challenges both the government and tribal leaders to ask if there is "anything-beyond shame over the American past-that made it necessary to prevent such losses" as the decline of the Caddo dialect. Readers will ponder this, and her other eloquently posed questions, for some time. Questions encouraged. [1 copy available]
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