So this is the first old story that I have reviewed for this site, wow it might actually be the oldest one that I review for a while!
Title: I Heard the Owl Call my Name
Author: Margaret Craven
Release Date: 1973 (first published 1967)
Genre: Historical Fiction, Classic Fiction
“The Indian know his village and feels it.”
His village is more than the strip of land four miles long and three miles wide that is his as long as the sun rises and the moon sets. His village is the river and the black-and-white killer whales that herd the fish to the end of the inlet. His village is the salmon who comes up the river to spawn, the seal who follow the salmon, the bluejay whose name is like the sound he makes−“Kwiss-kwiss.”
“His village is also the talking bird, the owl, who calls the name of the man who is going to die…”
It was to this village that the white man Mark Brian came−to learn the meaning of life and of death…
My First Thoughts:
My dad has been harping on me for a while to read one of his books and before I went off to school he gave me this one to take with me. This story meant a lot to my dad, because both he and his mother, my late grandmother, both liked reading it. So I decided to read it so I could feel closer to the two of them, especially since I didn’t really get to know my grandmother very long.
This story has a long list of characters that come and go throughout the story, but each of them are unique enough to remember as they’re mentioned. There are two main characters in this story, a young white priest and a young Native American man.
Mark Brian is given the opportunity to shepherd the people of Kingcome and the surrounding settlements. Being so young, and living in a more developed area, Mark has never had the opportunity to live in a place so close to nature and her way of life. Instead of making people feel sorry for him and his lack of abilities, he decides to learn what he can from the people around him and conquer his tasks on his own until he must ask for help. Quiet and respectful of the Indians, he observes them and tries to understand the sadness in their eyes and what it means to live in a world that is constantly disappearing. As he grows as a priest he learns the harsh and natural realities of death, and the way of life that has all been taken away from the natives of the land. Along his journey he also learns what he can of the tribe’s old way of life, before the White Man came and changed it forever.
The second main character is Native American by the English name Jim Wallace. When you first meet Jim he is a very quiet, very cautious man who doesn’t really trust Mark. Jim’s opinion at first is very low, thinking that as soon as Mark faces the normal day-to-day hardships that he would leave at the next opportunity. As the story progresses though, Jim sees Mark’s true nature and he goes from being judgmental to accepting. Jim also transforms from being a traditional man of the tribe to a more forward, open-minded man as his friendship with the priest grows.
Not going to lie, the beginning was a little hard to get into because the writing style was not what I was used to. After a while though, I adjusted and really enjoyed this story. It felt like a breath of fresh air because it was so different than what I have been reading lately. The story wasn’t super complicated with lots of twisting passages that could lead to sequels, or tons of subplots to drag the story on. It was very short and sweet and to the point, with a nice straight path that lead to the end.
Another thing that I liked about it was the humbling affect that it had on me. It was a very calm read, and it was like stepping into an old black-and-white film or a John Wayne movie on the movie classics channel. I’m not sure how historically accurate it was, but to me it seemed to portray the native lifestyle very well and I believe that was what made it so humbling to me. It was especially sad to read about what the tribe’s history was and all of the cultural things they had to let go because the government told them to. It was so fascinating to read about some of the different traditions and stories, even if they weren’t from a real tribe. Some of their stories, especially about the swimmer, really stuck with me and made me think about their actual meaning.
The one thing I didn’t like about the book was the lack of description that I’m used to. A lot of books nowadays are full of descriptions, sometimes going a bit too far. However, this book didn’t lack imagery and world building, but it wasn’t done in such the grand scale that our books do now. The description was there, it was just very short and it set the mood more than the scene, which was a little hard for me to get used to.
I can see now why my father and grandmother really liked this book. It was a really nice life journey to read about that made you see what some people went through and how one person can change a group of people, and how that same group can change the one. I definitely suggest reading this book outside of an English class on your own time because it was really enjoyable and different. The book had so many quotes that I loved that the side of the book is littered with tiny posted-notes, there were so many things said that could relate to current day. And this book, while short, really does put you through an emotional ride with ups and downs stretched out nicely within so few pages. It didn’t feel choppy or like whiplash, and the sad moments really punched you in the gut at times. By the end of the book I couldn’t read it while waiting for my classes because I would either partially cry or get misty-eyed. I’m really glad that my dad gave me this book to read!
While it was a great story, I don’t think it quite deserves anything more than a four because of the difference in writing style and how hard it was for me to get into it at first. However, the story was really enjoyable after the first few chapters and was nicely paced. While there was a large cast of characters, each one had a purpose and played a major role telling the story and driving it forward. The history elements to the story were very nice, it added a quaint charm to the book and really helped immerse the reader into the settling. Overall a nice story to read during the fall as a nice break between larger novels.