By: Oliver LaFarge
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1929
Laughing Boy is the story of the clash of Navajo and American societies in the early 1900s. The title character, Laughing Boy, marries Slim Girl, a young orphaned Navajo who was sent to American schools as a child. LaFarge explores the deep love that Laughing Boy has for the Navajo way and the bitterness that Slim Girl experiences as a result of her time spent in the American school where she was forced to take on the American ways and forget her own. Slim Girl seeks revenge on the Americans by marrying a Navajo, but ultimately finds a link to her people that she never expected.
While I often struggled with the flowery language used to describe Navajo society, mythology, rituals, and even everyday living, I was interested to read a story that is different from any Pulitzer winners I have read to date. Having lived as a child in New Mexico and spending time there most summers of my life since, I was able to visualize LaFarge's descriptions of the outpost towns, landscape, and Navajo dwellings and art. I know I would have never read this book on my own and I'm not sure that I will read it again, but it did expose me to some unfamiliar Navajo ideas and traditions which always make a reading worthwhile.