The Heartsong of Charging Elk
James Welch, signed by author
As a young boy in South Dakota, Charging Elk watches his people, the Oglala Sioux, defeat Custer at Little Big Horn. When the Sioux are defeated and forced onto reservations, Charging Elk elects to live in the Stronghold, a campsite in the hills established by the Indians who reject reservation life and seek to preserve the old customs. Life in the Stronghold is hard, but Charging Elk survives to become a fearless young Indian. However, when Buffalo Bill selects him to perform in his Wild West Show, Charging Elk’s life is changed forever. He travels to Europe with the show, far from the Stronghold and to a world beyond any Charging Elk could have ever imagined. While performing in Marseille, Charging Elk falls ill and is hospitalized. Due to an administrative mix-up, the show moves on without him, leaving him stranded in a foreign land, unable to communicate. Over the years, the promised help from the American consulate never materializes, and Charging Elk eventually carves out a lonely life for himself in the ethnic section of Marseille. He drifts toward the seedier side of town, seeking comfort in an affair with a prostitute. The affair ends in a gruesome and bizarre murder that changes the course of Charging Elk’s life, giving him a chance to reinvent himself. Charging Elk’s story unfolds against the backdrop of the intertwining and opposing images of the naturalistic nineteenth-century American West and urban nineteenth-century France. His attempt to navigate between these two colliding worlds is a unique version of the stranger in a strange land story, an engrossing parable of human endurance.
James Welch attended schools on the Blackfeet and Fort Belknap reservations in Montana, and studied writing at the University of Montana. One of his four previous novels, ‘Fools Crow’, won the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award. Welch lives in Missoula, Montana, with his wife, Lois.