I live in Rio Rancho, NM, which is just a couple of hours near these places. I'm hispanic, not Native American, but I know some of the stories of the area, but not all the little details. I am sure this book only skims some of the witchcraft lore. But it was chilling and very vivid nonetheless. A great read. Rich with culture. I could actually picture the mesas and arroyos. Even the attitude of the people. And it does leave you pondering....was it witchcraft that killed Bernadette? Or was it just another domestic violence incident gone way wrong? Hmmmm....
I decided to read this book because author Jo-Ann Mapson in the New Mexico Magazine, February 2011 issue listed this book as her favorite New Mexico book. Tony Hillerman on the cover says it should be ranked amoung the classics of American fiction. I too think the book is special. I grew up in New Mexico as a white and this book brought back memories and voices from my teenage years that had been long buried. I remembered Hopi and Zuni and Navaho girls that I played basketball with and against, the feel of the pueblo during a celebration, the tension between the troops of pueblo and Navaho girls at the Girl Scout camp, and the way my actions sometimes offended, without my intention, the elder native Americans.
I loved the conversational, storytelling voice of Gracie, the 16-year-old sister of Bernadette. Although the chapters are told by different characters, Gracie is my favorite narrator. Like her I begin to love Bernadette. When the evil first appears in the book, it is chilling and startling.
This is a classic for two reasons. First it is a good story, a mystery revealed slowly, a tradgedy involving witchcraft and jealousy and a mix of old ways and new ways. Second this it is unique in its subject matter, setting, and language. It is about a New Mexico.
Although I knew the book was about the death of Bernadette Lefthand, the title gives that away, I was heartbroken when her death finally occurred. I grieved. The good guys do not win in this book. There is however one spark of potential justice at the end, in the last excerpt from the book Navaho Witchraft (1944). I won't give it away. It made me laugh. Such craftiness.
Today, the Navajo believe that Witchcraft is at work in Arizona and New Mexico, and some of the People feel that this was the cause of the Death of Bernadette Lefthand, even though she lived on the Jicarillo Reservation with her heavy drinking husband.
Now you must decide for yourself, who is the murder.