Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee may not ring the bell too loud in this century, but in the previous, it was a seminal read for Baby Boomers and liberals in many parts of the world. First published in the US in 1970, the book was a best-seller throughout 1971, and although it was written over 40 years ago, the words Brown penned, according to its Thai translator, are still strikingly relevant to the Obama-era of today.
Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee is available at WAY of BOOK at 800 baht, EMS delivery included. Call 02-736-9918.
Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee tells the Native Americans' side of the story: how they endured betrayals and injustices from the American government during the early years of nation-founding. The book covers 30 years worth of history, from 1860 to1890, where the tensions between different tribes and the US federal government intensified and finally exploded at the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890 when the killing of unarmed Sioux Indians took place.
Pairat Saensawat first translated the book 32 years ago. The 3,000 copies from that first print were available on the shelves for around three years before they completely disappeared. Late last year, the second printing of Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee came through, via WAY of BOOK, with only 1,000 copies available through direct order.
For the new edition, Pairat wrote and compiled an extensive bibliography which had been omitted from the previous version, as well as extra research, commentaries and a section on Wild West movies that give a thorough perspective of the issue. He intends these to be useful to general public and university students.
Pairat is a retired sub-editor at the Bangkok Post (though he's still working on a contract basis) and has translated a handful of books, mostly non-fiction and young adult fiction. With the air of a 1970s progressive soul, Pairat is a proto-indie man; he enjoys biking practically everywhere, something he's actually been doing for years _ well before the jazz boom in Thailand.
Why did you choose to translate this book back in the 1970s?
Stories about the Wild West were very popular during those times and we got to know about it mostly from movies, books and comics.
I read books by Louis L'Amour and the movies I watched always conjured the image of white heroes and how they settled in the new land where the Indians were the enemies. Since I was a child, Indians are always depicted as the bad guys.
But then Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee came out and exposed the scars of the land, how the white settlers hurt and exploited the Indians. It was written very well and compiled well since there were documents to prove its points.
It has a literary quality despite being non-fiction.
There are passages that give flesh and blood to people _ because they are about real people that really existed. It came out during the Vietnam War, which made it very relevant.
The book came as a shock to the nation that was not so aware of their wrong-doings.
Why is it getting published again?
I waited to see which publishing house would propose a re-print and what sort of viewpoint they have towards society. Are they progressive? If they're right-wing I surely wouldn't go on with them. Athikom Khunawut [the head of independent publishing house WAY] said before that there are five books that he treasured and wanted to print. This book was number one on his list. He then tried to locate me and it was a bit hard to find me because I don't really go around proclaiming my existence!
What social implications do you think this book has?
It's about many events over the span of 30 years that finally climaxed with the massacre at Wounded Knee. There had been many more wars before that, but those took place in a savage kind of world, but during these 30 years, the West [from 1860 onwards] was already quite developed with trains, steamboats, industrial factories and cannons.
A couple of events occurred during the 1970s which caused a stir in the US: the My Lai massacre in Vietnam _ this book also came out around that time. Then there was also the Wounded Knee incident in 1973 [a clash between federal marshalls and gathering Native Americans at the same location as the 1890 massacre]. Next year Marlon Brando refused to receive his Oscar [for Best Actor in The Godfather] to protest the way Hollywood had unfairly portrayed Indians in films. It's an important implication, but not particularly to Thai people.
Regardless, Bury My Heart is not a book that only attracted praise, there was a lot of criticism as well. Historians and professors said Brown didn't include the viewpoint of people of authority from the American side. They claim that certain details may also have been omitted, which could be misleading. But then if he had included those things, the book would have turned into a thesis and nobody would probably want to read it.
How can readers today relate to a book written 43 years ago about what happened 150 years before that?
Every single country in the world is somehow influenced by the US. Only countries that America didn't have much sway in, like China and Russia, are less affected. But in a Southeast Asian country like ours, everyone and every aspect of life is affected by the US, whether economic, militarily or culturally. In a sense, we're all no different from the Indians since Americans have the power to dominate us.
What do you think of the Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee TV series that was made by HBO?
They obviously cannot create it to cover every single aspect of the book. There are too many events so they just covered the important events and the massacre at Wounded Knee. Also some characters that were not mentioned in the book came up on screen. A lot of people said it was good, some otherwise.
What are some of your favourite Western movies?
Dances With Wolves, directed by Kevin Costner. Another is The Searchers, directed by John Ford. I liked how they illustrated the nature of humans _ how things turn out when hatred and revenge is something we don't let go of.
The new translation is available through direct order only. Why isn't the book being sold in bookstores?
We've come to a point where only three major bookstore chains rule the book market and they have the power to choose which books to distribute and display. Small publishers who are still on that circuit are disadvantaged so we [with the publishing house WAY] decided to do this way. At first, WAY was going to publish 2,000 copies and go through the usual system but that would have taken months just to clear the numbers and the stock. This is an indie approach. There are only 1,000 copies and every book has a signature and number.
The West is not necessarily a topic that interests everyone, but this book can give more than that. How so?
It's always important to study the past because things that have happened can possibly happen again. If we already know about it, we can prevent repeating the same mistakes.
It's good to have an understanding of the American West. We all know the US is very powerful but it's also essential to grasp how they got to where they are today: how they have abused and stepped all over people who have owned the land before them and how that isn't right.
The way Dee Brown has presented this book is different from how history is presented in Thailand. We can't publish truth here and still live peacefully. This book didn't have any problems; it wasn't taken off the shelves, because it came out in a climate of democracy. No matter how we complain about the US, that country still stands on their roots of democracy and the truth. Announcing the truth is something they can freely do.
Free thinking shows how the writer is able to go look up all these documents and show them to the public _ how their so-called heroes that are celebrated, ones they name their tanks after, are actually just murderers. It is the wrongdoing that their nation has come to accept and I want Thai readers to see that historical books that are really well-researched give many benefits to our thinking. Can we do that? We can't even talk openly about so many things.
About the author
- Writer: Parisa Pichitmarn
Position: Life Writer