The Education of Little Tree (1976)
Okay, first let's get the ugliness out of the way. The recent boom in memoirs has produced a really fascinating phenomena, the true life tale which any intelligent reader knows to be fiction. The most celebrated recent examples are books like Angela's Ashes, wherein Frank McCourt reconstructs his entire childhood and verbatim dialogue in such loving detail that we realize that his memoir is ultimately a fictional take on his own autobiography (see Orrin's review). But in The Education of Little Tree we have an even more audacious author. Forrest Carter's supposed memoir of being raised by his Cherokee grandparents after being orphaned at age 5, likewise recreates his youth in a level of detail that makes the story hard to credit, but in addition the characters he creates and episodes he relates defy belief. The simple old Cherokee couple living at one with nature in a marriage of equals seems to be a purely mythic creation, but then when the five year old joins them and helps them outwit government bureaucrats, Christian missionaries, big city mobsters, etc., in between trips to the library to get the classics of Western Literature which Grandma reads aloud each night, you can really feel the text leaving any claim to a basis in reality behind. Finally, as the story ends with Little Tree, now age 9, and his two loyal dogs, working their way across Depression America to get to the Cherokee Reservation, we've entered Cloud Cuckoo Land.
So I mentioned all of this to my Mom, who along with my brother urged this book upon me, and she said that she'd seen a People Magazine article about Carter a dozen years ago and it, naturally, turned out that the book is fiction. A little quick research on the Web turns up the fact that it's not just fiction, it's virtually a hoax. Carter was actually named Asa Carter. He was a rabid segregationist who adopted the pseudonym Bedford Forrest, in honor of the Confederate general who founded the Klan. He may or may not have been a speech writer for George Wallace, but he did claim to have written the infamous "Segregation Forever!" speech.
Now having said all that, there's one more thing that needs to be said about the book; it's terrific. In many ways it reminded me of The Power of One, both are books of such surpassing beauty and heartwarming humanity, who cares if they are completely unrealistic? Isn't one of the chief values of fiction the capacity to transcend reality? The Education of Little Tree teaches timeless lessons about the value of family, education and place and it preaches an abiding mistrust of government. If it also managed to snooker most of the touchy feely, do-gooder, Left, which desperately wishes that these were all Native American values, and not essentially Western ones, this merely allows us to enjoy it on a second level. After all, it's not hard to make Oprah & company look stupid, but it is fun.
See also:Children's Books
-CARTER, ASA EARL (1925-1979) [pseud. Bedford Forrest Carter] (Handbook of Texas)
-ESSAY: The Education of Little Tree and Forrest Carter: What Is Known? What Is Knowable?
(Amy Kallio Bollman University of Oklahoma)
-Article: Best Seller Is a Fake, Professor Asserts (FELICIA R. LEE, NY Times)
-ARTICLE: The Transformation of a Klansman (Dan T. Carter, NY Times)
-ESSAY: 'Authenticity,' or the Lesson of Little Tree (Henry Louis Gates Jr., NY Times)
-ESSAY: Culture Vultures (Mark Steyn, American Spectator)
-EXILE ON MAIN STREET: Home of the Brave (Fear of a Red Planet)
-STUDENT GUIDE: Education of Little Tree
-FILM REVIEW: (Russell Smith, Austin Chronicle)
-FILM REVIEW: (Noel Murray, Nashville Scene)
-FILM REVIEW: (Jumana Farouky, Boston Phoenix)
-ESSAY: "Just Too Good to Be True: another reason to beware of false eco-prophets" (Malcolm Jones Jr. with Ray Sawhill)
I couldn't believe when I found out that the author might be or is a racist/white supremacist. I enjoyed the book so much. I loved it from the beginning to end. I laughed and cried and wondered at the stuff said. It is a book that makes you think. As for me, I am a Christian who does not believe in that kind of way but it was interesting for me to read that and open up my knowledge of Indian culture. Ofcourse, if the book is a "fake", that would be okay. The charm in the book is enough to satisfy.
- Aug-07-2003, 12:49
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