War Dances

by Sherman Alexie

Hardcover, 2009

Call number




Grove Press (2009), Edition: First Edition, 256 pages


A collection of short stories includes the title story, in which a famous writer, who just learned he may have a brain tumor, must decide how to care for his distant, American Indian father who is slowly dying.

Media reviews

Alexie’s appealing collection of short stories, poems and self-interrogations opens with an attempted murder and closes with an epitaph. Mortality is much on the mind of this puckish writer, who continues to sift common truths through the sieve of his Indian identity, albeit with the alacrity of
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a man barreling away from his youth.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member delphica
This was ... fine, I guess. I'm not really sure how I ended up as a self-appointed quality monitor for Mr. Alexie, but I've felt for a while now that he's not exactly working up to his potential. This collection of short stories and poetry was perfectly adequate, and there were a few truly
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fantastic moments within the work, but overall not one single piece was extraordinary. He is not bringing his A game.

Grade: B-
Recommended: Well, yes. Alexie's B material is better than a lot of stuff out there.
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LibraryThing member LibraryChick99
Sherman Alexie does it again! This book's best part is its ability to sidle up and teach a white girl what it's like to be Native American in today's society. Alexie exposes myths and stereotypes about marriage, parenting, and Native Americans in these short stories and poems in such a deft way
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that you won't feel preached at or beaten over the head with his politics. You'll just pause to think how clever this National Book Award winning author really is!!
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LibraryThing member Niecierpek
It’s a collection of poems and short stories- some traditional, some in the form of questions and answers.
Very interesting. An absolutely distinct voice of a typical American intellectual totally immersed in contemporary big city life, not missing a beat, yet always conscious of his Spokane
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Indian ancestry. Intelligent, witty and poignant.
There is a caveat to the rating: some of the stories left me cold, but I absolutely loved some others. Same with the poems. Some didn’t leave a lasting impression on me, but others stayed, and the rating is sort of a mean of this all.
Favourite poem: Theology of Reptiles.
Favourite stories: War Dances and Salt.
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LibraryThing member AddictedToMorphemes
War Dances by Sherman Alexie

A nice mix of short stories and poetry by an insightful writer. I sometimes got confused about how much of his writings were his personal truths or if he was telling others' stories or just making up stories. It was all very honest. He understands the inner workings of
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What stood out for me was his story about Elder Briggs, a young man killed in the midst of a burglary, and how one moment in time can change so many lives. It also was thought-provoking in how those affected by tragedy can look at the same situation in different ways in order to find a comfortable scapegoat on which to place the blame. It was an interesting study on human nature. None of us want to be the ones at fault.

Also, his poem about watching a man intentionally swerving his car to try to hit a stray dog, and how a witness to that terrible act has to make a decision about whether to do anything about it...or not...when their own personal safety may be in jeopardy.

There are snippets about life as a Native American (or really insert any minority) which are telling when describing them having to tolerate ignorance, such as an interview with an old-timer recalling a brave act by an American Indian soldier in WWII who saved others' lives at the risk of his own, and even in the honored way the old soldier spoke of his former buddy's courage, he still made light of the fact that they called him "Chief". Another story recalls a little boy raging against a blatant deception, and then being referred to as "Little Crazy Horse".

This is veering off track here, but I need to try to relieve some personal guilt or vent a bit. I was a kid in the 70s in a very small town where the predominant tribal people are Lakota Sioux, and remarks like this were used, although most people around me were oblivious to how hurtful these digs could be, and probably would have felt terrible if they were made aware. It was the general insensitivity of the times, especially in an area that had no diversity to speak of. It's easy to make fun of a general anonymous group of people when you'll never have to look them in the eye. Back then, we told "Polack" jokes or "Ole & Lena" jokes (Scandinavian version) with the same blase' attitude and umbrella stereotyping as today's blonde jokes. We had common terms for things that had lost their original (derogatory) meaning for my generation. We as kids honestly didn't know better; anything we would have said would have been repeated from what we heard adults say, kind of like in today's world you can ask any 6- or 7-year-old kid who they would vote for in the presidential election and they will have very strong opinions which will immediately let you know whether their parents are conservative or liberal. As a whole we now know about the need for tolerance/kindness/fairness. We now know. Let's move in the right direction and make sure we are teaching our children to be better than we have been.
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LibraryThing member nmele
A collection of poems and short stories from Sherman Alexie, whose ironic take on Americans, no matter when they or their ancestors arrived here, is by turns funny, poignant, sometimes weird but always on the mark.
LibraryThing member JimCherry
Sherman Alexie’s War Dances is a collection of short stories and poems that may at first glance seem deceptively simple but have the capacity to catch you unaware of the ingrained depth.

The stories and poems included in War Dances are pretty easy reading and are amusing, especially the poems
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which precede and follow each story. The poems encapsulate little modern slices of life and serve to punctuate the theme of the story. War Dances is anchored by six stories of urban/suburban life, in the stories some characters are identified as Indians, some not. These characters are all just people going through similar searches as human beings and not Indian or Anglo. The best example would be the first short story Breaking and Entering which is a homeowners reaction to a thief breaking into his house while he’s home and the ramifications of their encounter.

Some of the stories or poems may convince you to look at the world differently than you do (the aim of most art), Looking Glass is a poem about Chief Joseph of the Nez Pearce who’s famous quote, “I will fight no more forever” which through the looking glass of history is taught as a victory over the Indians; but Looking Glass puts it into the Indian and perhaps correct connotation. The story, The Ballad of Paul Nonetheless, is a look at a marriage and infidelity and Alexie stays away from the usual clichés of this type of story, looking at it from all angles and advances some ideas that aren’t usually voiced. That is the beauty of stories included in War Dances, is Alexie’s ability to look at all sides of the situations the characters find themselves in and still deliver a pithy and entertaining story.

Sherman Alexie is a master of the short story and War Dances, while not the strongest of Alexie’s work is still a strong addition to the body of work he’s building in his career.
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LibraryThing member OgdenReads
This collection of poems and short stories reaffirms my belief that Sherman Alexie is some kind of literary rockstar. The words can get kind of crazy and they don’t all make sense to me, but I love them anyway. The stories are bold and aggressive, and that’s exactly why I’m a fan. When I
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finished War Dances, I wanted to jump around and scream and take home a souvenir of smashed pencil splinters.

The title story tells of an American Indian dealing with the impending death of his alcoholic, diabetic father (a “natural Indian death”). Other narrators include a film editor who reacts violently to an intruder in his home, a news intern who must write the obituary of the obituary editor, and a music fan who thinks a burned compilation CD just ain’t got the same soul as a mix tape made the old way. While the content may not be shocking, the authenticity is. I get the feeling that these characters all have the same burning questions that I have. Alexie puts those questions (even the scary ones) into words, gives them breathing room, and doesn’t pretend that he has all the answers. As a whole, the book is a slap in the face, or a relief, or both. Also, it’s hilarious.

I’ve read four other books by this author, and this much I can tell you: while reading Sherman Alexie, I’m never bored and I’m never certain. I often feel like I’m trailing a maniacal driver who does 90 and zigzags frequently. It’s a wild ride, so I’m not promising that you’ll finish War Dances in the same condition you were in when you started … but getting roughed up by a read can be a good time. If you’ve resolved to do something daring in the New Year, check out this book.

Review written by Laura Richardson, 11/9/2009
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LibraryThing member YogiABB
just love Sherman Alexie's writing. I love the ironic humor in his fiction. Much of it is humorous but with a point, often a very blunt point.

War Dances is a collection of short stories and poems. Most of them involve Native American characters. Alexie is a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian. He wrote
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the screenplay to one of my favorite movies, "Smoke Signals." One of the scenes in that movie has become an inside joke with Sweetie and I, "John Wayne's Teeth." loved this book. I read it in less than 24 hours.
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LibraryThing member ShortStoryLover
I love Sherman Alexie's stories; the move to insert poetry I think worked in this collection.
LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
This is a book of short stories and poems by Sherman Alexie who is a very popular Native American author. I was kind of disappointed in this small volume and wonder if that was because I'd recently seen this author in person and was so totally entertained by his deadpan humor. It doesn't come
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across quite that strongly in this book. I think the best story was one called "Salt" in which a Native American teenager who works for a newspaper is called upon to write an obituary for the obituary writer who just died. I'm still going to look for Alexie's most popular book called The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.
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LibraryThing member gbelik
I didn't enjoy this as much as his previous short story collection, Ten Little Indians. Good, but it didn't have the perfect "voice" of his previous stories.
LibraryThing member michaelbartley
a well written collection of short stories. many dealing with men facing you they are. some of these men I didn't like which in a strange way made me like them
LibraryThing member eeio
sherman alexie is dark and funny, and brutally honest.very touching book. very well crafted short stories. the poems in between help a lot. i think it's a good way of using poetry, as intermission. a quick read but it feels like a perfectly well crafted book.
LibraryThing member capostoli
One of the best books I've read in a long time. Alexie's writing is honest, poetic, and inspiring. I didn't want it to end!
LibraryThing member bhowell
This collection of short stories and poetry is fabulous. I read it in an evening. The mixture of humour and tragedy is deftly handled and just when you are relaxing and laughing you are punched in the stomach with reality. A young man winces as a traditional healing song is sung at his father's
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hospital bedside and the hospital staff looks on in wonder at this wonderful display of aboriginal culture. And he thinks,
"I knew this song would not bring back my father's feet . This song would not repair my father's bladder, kidneys , lungs , and heart. This song would not prevent my father from drinking a bottle of vodka as soon as he could sit up in bed. This song would not defeat death."
As for the smiling nurse,
"Sometimes , even after all of these years , she could still be surprised by her work. She still marveled at the infinite and ridiculous faith of other people."
And the young man ponders whether dying slowly from alcohol and disabetes should be called an "a natural Indian death".
Sherman Alexie is a fearless writer, mocking, rebellious, yet completely entertaining.
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LibraryThing member FolkeB
Alexie’s War Dances is a collection of stories about the complexities of all manner of relationships: father/son, husband/wife, homeowner/robber, boyfriend/girlfriend, friend/friend, modern Native American/cultural heritage. Alexie uses both poetry and variations on the standard short story to
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communicate the tragic struggles and small triumphs of forgiveness and quiet resolution at turning points in the character’s lives. Critical moments for reflection—a son seeing his father’s alcoholism lead to his death, a man mindlessly committing a violent hate crime, another man losing innocence by learning the lies behind all he has believed—center each story and guide the character and the reader through a thoughtful, meditative examination of self and belief.

I believe this book deserves its honor of the National Book Award because Alexie has mastered the art of capturing a deeply true and tragically beautiful thought’s essence and crafting it into the fabric of a honest, fallible, and heartbreakingly real character’s life experience. His dialogue is piercing, moving, and challenging, and his pacing in his prose development mirrors the careful construction of his poetry, which I have always found sublime. I would recommend this book because it is highly enjoyable and freeing in spite of (or even because of) its heavy content. His wrenching vignettes, interwoven with his powerful poetry, sing of expert, intentional wordsmithing, that both refreshes with its sparseness and originality and soothes with rhythm and truth.

Rebecca H.
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LibraryThing member BMaliner
latest book by Sherman - after Lysa and I saw him at the Phila. Library - unfortunately he must have read all the best parts at the Library - this book was weak - I got 2/3 of the way through and put it down.
LibraryThing member librarianbryan
Someone has lost a little bit of his verve. Title story is the best.
LibraryThing member bookishtexpat
I loved this collection. It was poignant, funny, harsh, and brilliantly written. I will be picking up more of Sherman Alexie's work.
LibraryThing member bongo_x
Sherman Alexie has become one of my favorite writes, but this is not my favorite work by him. This book is sort of a random collection of stories and poetry, and I not that fond of a lot of poetry so that has a lot to do with it. The title story, and "The Ballad of Paul Nonetheless" are really
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good, but the rest of it was not as good as the other things I’ve read by him.
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LibraryThing member -Eva-
Any book by Sherman Alexie will contain quality writing and this one is no exception, although I wouldn't hold it up as one of his best. It's a somewhat uneven collection where a few stories and poems just punch you in the gut - in true Alexie style - but where many are too meandering or blurry to
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really carry their weight. Although I'm happy to have read it for such gems as "The Limited," "Breaking and Entering," "Another Proclamation," and the magnificent title story, "War Dances," it's unfortunately not a book that's going in my permanent collection.
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LibraryThing member greeniezona
I've been meaning to read this book for ages, I don't know why it's taken me so ridiculously long. But when I had a rare moment to actually step over into the adult fiction section in the library, in between talking Solomon down from putting every Go, Diego Go! DVD in the entire system on hold at
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once, this book jumped out at me.

I confess it took a bit for me to get into this collection. I prefer Alexie's poetry and longer stories, often finding his short stories a little dry. (Of course, I admit also to a long held prejudice against short stories themselves as a format.) Where Alexie won me over was with the story "War Dances," which somehow manages to be everything I associate with Alexie, and then again with "Fearful Symmetry," which is about so many things, but the part I especially loved was about the crazy Hollywood machine and how it treats screenwriters.

The very first story in the collection, "Breaking and Entering," didn't connect at first, but as time went on, I think I've thought about this story more than any other. About a man who accidentally kills a youth who he fins breaking into his home, it is just so relevant to everything that I think of it often.
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LibraryThing member Mike_L
War Dances by Sherman Alexie (Grove Press, 2009)

Sherman Alexie’s award winning, War Dances, is a book of short stories, poems, and question and answer sections, which surprisingly work quite well together. This book includes 23 pieces of literature which cover a wide array of topics, ranging from
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homosexuality, to corruption in politics, to struggles with alcoholism, to marriage, and even struggles faced by Native Americans. The way I see it, the book’s title, War Dances, could very well be a reference to the struggles, or wars, everyday people fight throughout their lives.

When talking about Native Americans and their traditions in this book’s title story, War Dances, Alexie holds nothing back. “You should see my dad right now. He’s pretending to go into this, like, fucking trance and is dancing around my sister’s bed.” He offers valuable, yet often grotesque insight into the life of a modern Native American.

Alexie seamlessly blends together a serious yet comedic tone as he describes various tragedies and unfortunate coincidences. Part auto-biography, this book goes to great length to reveal much about what could very well be Sherman Alexie’s life. In his short story, Orphans, Sherman Alexie writes through the eyes of a family man diagnosed with a tumor. “I was worried that I had a brain tumor. Or that my hydrocephalus had returned. I was scared that I was going to die and orphan my sons.” While Alexie is quick to touch on dark themes such as that mentioned in Orphans, he often balances these stories with sarcasm and humor.

The somewhat quirky and questionable format of Sherman Alexie’s stories attests to his unconventional writing style, and leaves readers desiring more from this Native-American man. His short stories can be as short as a page or as long as seven, however, all have value and serve a purpose. As the book weaves through various stories, it reveals multiple underlying themes including, holding oneself accountable for one’s actions, and how success can cause corruption. Overall, this 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award winner adds to Alexie’s collection of worthwhile reads, which includes various other award winning and nominated books.

--Michael Lurigio
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LibraryThing member St.CroixSue
I listened to the author read his work and I was completely mesmerized. His reading was flawless and the poetic nature of these memoir-like pieces surfaced in all of the writing. Achingly honest, I would really recommended listening to the audio version. I could not turn it off!
LibraryThing member stuart10er
Great collection of short stories and poems. The central story "War Dances" is awesome. But there are other really good ones as well.




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