Power is a beautiiul book. It was a thick read, even at 235 pages. It’s heavy on description and much of this is loaded into the first three chapters of the book which take up 83 pages. Omishto is our narrator and tells all of the events of the story. She is a Taiga Indian, member of a tribe that is only thirty members strong and appears to be dying. Along with the disappearance of the tribe will be the disappearance of the Taiga language and stories about Sisa, the grandmother panther who brought the Taiga people into the world and breathed life (Oni) into them.
It’s through the eyes of Omishto that we see everything in the novel: the geography of the part of Florida where the events of the book take place, Ama, her mother’s cousin who functions as an aunt and guide, the hurricane, the hunt for the panther and even visions into a world we could not be aware of without having made a spirit journey of our own. Omishto sees the historical past, flashes of a vision of the future and even the eternal present of Taiga myth and storytelling.
This is a complex book, I think. One that would be hard to teach without the benefit of a teacher serving as a guide. Very little of the book is told through dialog. I loved the story that is told in Power. I didn’t love it as a thing of beauty, though passages are beautiful. I didn’t love the book because it told the story I wanted to hear. It didn’t. The driving event of the entire plot occurs on page 65 and I spent the next 170 pages exploring the meaning of this event and its effects on Omishto.
After a hurricane has hit the Ama’s house and the surrounding area has been devastated physically Ama leads Omishto on a journey that appears to take them outside of ordinary time and geography. It is a hunt for the Florida Panther, so Omishto loses track of time and, later, has difficulty identifying the route that they have taken, knowing only that they haven’t strayed off of Taiga reservation land. The passage on which the book turns involves Ama’s shooting of the revered panther.
And then Ama says, “Omishto, come stand beside me,” and I do. The cat looks up and she shows me to the cat, and what she does is, she introduces me to it, it to me. She says my name as she looks at me, as if I am both an offering and a friend.
Then, when Ama fires the gun, I jump back and cover my mouth with my hand and the world breaks apart in the terrified screams of small animals. Birds wake in trees and call out. But after the noise, everything goes quiet. A great silence spreads over the place. It is bleeding silence.
There is so much to say about this novel. I think that it goes beyond simply being a novel that explains “Indian ways” to a white audience. It even goes beyond being a political statement about treaty rights or the history of America’s genocide directed at the original residents of the North American continent.
Hogan appears to be trying to take all of us, Native and non-Native alike, to consider a future which doesn’t result in the death of all species and a determined ignorance of the natural world. For Omishto, the time in the distant past when human beings were in a closer relationship with nature, humans could ask “the animals to lay down their lives for us and in turn we offered them our kinship, our respect, our words in the next world over from here, our kind treatment.” The illusion, according to Hogan’s character, Omishto is that “…people believe, falsely, …that all this can no longer be so.”