Thursday, 11 September 2014

Buffalo Soldier

Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
ISBN 9781406314595
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Many things inspire artistic and memorable works like this one. Strange things, personal things, and things we’ve seen, read or experienced. Tanya Landman was mistaken for a boy until the age of fourteen. She was also inspired by the real life of the slave, Cathy Williams, who disguised herself as a man to become a Buffalo Soldier.

Landman courageously explores the notion of freedom and its complexity; the misuse of absolute power and its corruption, and the blood lust of the war era. She thrusts the history of man’s inhumanity in our faces and says, ‘I dare you to look.’

All the characters in the book regardless of colour, class and position in life, have things in common. Each group has ranks; there are levels of authority in place with orders to be obeyed without the option of choice. This common thread is an important element in the story.

The young slave girl Charlotte becomes Charlie O’Hara to join the army; her only means of survival after being freed. We travel with her from just before the Civil War until the removal of the last Apache from their reservation. This gut-wrenching and desolate content is explosive and heartbreaking. The injustices experienced by slaves and Indians at the hands of soldiers are painful. I had to stop frequently and set the book aside due to the overwhelming sadness that engulfed me.

But these dismal components share the space with a moving love story. Past all the slaughter, ugliness and desolation of war crawls love. Unexpected and uninvited, it surprises Charlie and with its power, and changes the look and feel of everything she’s part of.

This is an outstanding book that will be returned to again because of its superb narrative voice, confronting yet undeniable truths, and strong historical content. A brilliant piece of work based on history, it is one of the best books I have ever read.

Caution: this book contains highly graphic and disturbing scenes.


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