The Toughest Indian in the World

ISBN: 0802138004
ISBN 13: 9780802138002
By: Sherman Alexie

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About this book

A beloved American writer whose books are championed by critics and readers alike, Sherman Alexie has been hailed by Time as "one of the better new novelists, Indian or otherwise." Now his acclaimed new collection, The Toughest Indian in the World, which received universal praise in hardcover, is available in paperback. In these stories, we meet the kind of American Indians we rarely see in literature -- the kind who pay their bills, hold down jobs, fall in and out of love. A Spokane Indian journalist transplanted from the reservation to the city picks up a hitchhiker, a Lummi boxer looking to take on the toughest Indian in the world. A Spokane son waits for his diabetic father to come home from the hospital, tossing out the Hershey Kisses the father has hidden all over the house. An estranged interracial couple, separated in the midst of a traffic accident, rediscover their love for each other. A white drifter holds up an International House of Pancakes, demanding a dollar per customer and someone to love, and emerges with $42 and an overweight Indian he dubs Salmon Boy. Sherman Alexie's voice is one of remarkable passion, and these stories are love stories -- between parents and children, white people and Indians, movie stars and ordinary people. Witty, tender, and fierce, The Toughest Indian in the World is a virtuoso performance by one of the country's finest writers.

Reader's Thoughts

Mrs. Reed

This collection of short stories spans many different genres--realistic fiction, magic realism, sci-fi--all exploring the identity of the American Indian. Some were better than others, but it was one of the most cohesive short story collections I have ever encountered. Alexie uses these perfect little gems to communicate the complicated feelings he has about race and belonging.I didn't know when I first picked it up that it was a short story collection, and I was a little sad when I figured it out, because I was hoping to spend more time with the characters I had already met. Obviously, I just hadn't read the blurb carefully enough. Oh well. The book was a fortunate find at a used book store by Andrew's college (I bought lots of books that day, and they should last me until the end of the summer!). I picked it up because I enjoyed The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, a YA version of the themes I rediscovered in this book. (TATDOAPTI also one of the few books that I can pretty much hand to any kid and he or she will like it.)Race and racial relations really captivate me, and I love Alexie's honesty. I wish everyone could talk about race this candidly. I think that being an American Indian gives him a special pass from political correctness, and I am grateful that he has that pass.The collection ends with its best story, in my opinion. That last story, called "One Good Man," repeats the refrain, "What is an Indian?" with varied answers that reflect the small, poignant action, such as "Is it a son who can stand in a doorway and watch his father sleep?" This last story seems the most autobiographical to me--the heartbreak threaded in the situation, the characters, and most of all the style, suggests a purity of emotion. The story is so delicate that it reminds me of that great last story that closes The Dubliners, the beautiful and perfect "The Dead." So, I guess that I'm saying that Alexie is to American Indians what Joyce is to the Irish.


I've read, and enjoyed, most of Alexie's fiction. This collection, however, is probably my least favorite of his books. I was kind of surprised by the amount of graphic sex in the first four stories here. It didn't really fit the Alexie style. When I got to the fifth story, the middle of the book, "The Sin Eaters," I was shocked. Not by sex, this time, but because this story is science fiction. Perhaps an allegory, a metaphor, but it very much left the realm of realism far behind. The last half of the book redeemed it somewhat, though it was still pretty explicit. The final story here, "One Good Man," seemed so familiar to me, I'm pretty sure I read it before somewhere. I hope so, 'cause the alternative explanation would be that Alexie's themes and motifs are so familiar by being repetitive. It's not a bad collection -- far from it -- but it's different enough from what I was expecting that I couldn't quite overcome that expectation. If you haven't read Alexie, start with The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven, and then move on to Reservation Blues. Save this one for later.


This is the second collection of stories by Alexie, and I think it shows. Some of these stories, which explore in different styles the modes and definitions of love, are spectacular. Some of them are really good. Some of them are kind of reaching, as if his interest in experimenting overwhelmed his storytelling. My husband just said to me that he's been disinclined to read much into Alexie's work because it's so obvious that Lone Ranger and Tonto was the book he had in him all his life. That makes sense to me-- what Alexie does best, he's already done to perfection. Which isn't to say that this doesn't contain much that is new, interesting, well-worth a read. It is all of that. But Lone Ranger and Tonto was pretty much flawless, and this collection, well, isn't.4/5 Diet Pepsis


A few good short stories here, but too many clunkers. Some are awful, and were they not written by Alexie would never see print. The title story has a shocking turn of events that seemed unbelievable and nonsensical. Alexie knows how to write well: it's the constant theme of evil whites and poor Indians and how nobody knows 'Indian' like another Indian that becomes annoying. If you want to see Alexie's skills at their best, I suggest "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part time Indian". Don't let the YA label fool you.IMNSHO, Alexie is getting a pass about half the time, but I think he has the talent to be great one day. He simply needs to quit beating the horse (introduced by the Spaniards, BTW) and get a better 'story' into his stories. I look forward to it when he does.

Rebecca Robinson

I love Alexie's voice, and though not every story struck me in a deep manner, the ones that did really struck me. All around I think this is a wonderful set of stories that not only explore being of one identity but also many layers to the human condition. The most moving were the descriptions and journeys through white-Indian relations and how they have haunted this country and the world. I feel more young adults should read his work, as controversial as it is, to better understand the world they live in.


This collection of short stories is a bit of a departure from Alexie's other works. While the stories are still those of Native Americans, this one deals - quite graphically - with sex. I'm afraid that some who pick this up as their introduction to Alexie would never pick up another of his books! And that would be a shame - he is a wonderful writer, and has a lot to say (especially for us 'white folk' I think). But I would not recommend this as your introduction to his work. Read


It isn’t easy to describe one of Sherman Alexie’s provocative collections of short stories. Reviews often seem limited to a string of adjectives—touching, funny, angry, passionate, bittersweet, tender, mysterious, magical, vivid and haunting. Real. Suffice to say that he is incredibly skilled at directing human emotions into words, which is no small feat considering most of us can’t even put our own thoughts into words, let alone good words. Really good words, as the case may be. Alexie is the master of the small moment: a wife watching her husband play basketball in the snow, a son meticulously purging his diabetic father’s house of hidden candy, a man standing in a phone booth with no one to call. He has an amazing ability to portray the rawness of people—their best and worst qualities all at once: the loving and the fighting, the cheating and the loyalty, the despair and the resilience of hope.


The Toughest Indian was my introduction to Sherman Alexie, and I'm completely hooked. His collection of short stories is at once heart-wrenching and poetic, weaving tales of devastation and healing. Many of the stories are surreal, but all of them are familiar. Anyone searching for honest depictions of colorism, of class, of colonization, sexual stigma, painful marriages, childhood trauma, or a life lived outside of standard narratives should read this book.


I normally love Alexie. I like that he makes me think, but these stories are way to sexual for my liking. I only read the first one and 3/4 of the second one, and I am putting this book down. I don't want that much sexual information about anyone. I get that Alexie uses the sexual relationship to mean something entirely different, but to be honest, I don't want to slog through sex to get to his meanings. I'll pass on this one.


I wish I was Indian just so I could properly worship at Sherman Alexie's altar. His story collections are superb--different enough but with enough recurring moments to create a cohesive whole. His stories make you feel like you're reading a universal truth about humanity even though he's clearly telling the Indian story and we blue-eyed devils can only catch a mere sliver of a glimpse behind the curtain. Not only are the stories pregnant with emotion (and the emotions in this collection are as diverse as can be), but they are also written well, somehow poetically novel without the flourish of the typical lyricist. I would recommend this collection to anyone and everyone.


I'm of two minds about this collection. One mind says that these are fabulous stories, and if I didn't see Alexie's name as the author I'd think it was an impressive debut collection. Very PoMo and postcolonial. Very feminist and gay friendly. Very dominant discourse bashing. In short, the very essence of current political and literary correctness. Guaranteed to be on the top of the multicultural reading list. And maybe deservedly so. With its discussion and paper generating utility, the book has great potential in freshman comp classes. On the other hand, that is precisely my beef. To be sure, Alexie, as an "Other," can claim an honest allegiance to these viewpoints that many other writers can't. It does seem, however, that he is reaching a bit, as if now that he is well established (and has the pulpit), he's abandoned what was original in his writing, and is striving to use all the tools of the "Dominant Discourse" to make political, social, and cultural statements. As ex-rapper, now TV star, Ice-T says, your job is to join the establishment and change it from the inside. Fair enough. My criticism here is that with this book Alexie has written in a style that just about anyone could have written, and he's written about themes just about anyone could have written, whereas with his early books he was clearly writing in a style that no one else could have written. The writing is superb in these stories, but the agenda is way too blatant, and in some cases that blatancy causes the art to fail. Even worse, he destroys some beautiful heart-breaking moments by surrounding them with political statements. I think "The Sin Eaters" is perhaps an exception; as an extended metaphor it comes closest to succeeding as art. "Indian Country" on the other hand might be the worst offender in the blatant pandering to multicultural rhetoric category. Even if everything he says is true and needs to be said, he should have done what Gass recommends and put it into an essay. If he'd toned down the rhetoric, if he'd shown instead of told, "Indian Country" could have been a devastating story. Of course, as followers of Eagleton will argue, politics is the only purpose of literature. And for that camp, Alexie is perhaps the new standard bearer.


I love this author. His writing is beautiful. He writes like an "every man" but with an excellent vocabulary that adds becuase it is the perfect word not becuase it shows off that he is smarter that everyone else. His characters are very real and beautifully flawed. I am not a fan of short stories and I picked up this book not knowing that it was a collection of short stories. I actually was on the 3rd when I realized that the characters were not going to reappear. I really enjoyed most of the stories and the few that I "didn't get" left me with the impression that I am just not clever enough to work through the symbolism and the metaphor.


An excellent, cohesive collection of short stories. Alexie has mastered developing rich, complex characters in such short narratives. At the end of each short story, I longed to know more about the lives of the protagonists, other than the few glimpses I had been allowed. Very few authors could get an audience so emotionally invested over the span of several pages.

Emily White

I read Sherman Alexie’s book of short stories The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven some years ago and was expecting The Toughest Indian In the World to be comparable. The Lone Ranger had a simplicity about it that I found intriguing, and I felt like it captured some of the struggles of the modern American Indian. I felt the hopelessness and anger of the characters, and saw the stereotypes that they lived with day in and day out. Toughest Indian operated along much of the same lines, as a collection of short stories, each exemplifying something about the modern American Indian experience, but I was turned off by this book somewhat because of some of the more in-your-face graphicness (is that a word?) in this book. The stories came off as being more gritty and less dreamy than those in The Lone Ranger. It was kind of a tough read for me, but I felt like it was important for me to read this as Toughest Indian is known as being one of Alexie’s seminal volumes.


"Sexually speaking, Indian women and men are simultaneously promiscuous and modest. That's a contradiction, but it also happens to be the truth."That true contradiction is a tidy way to sum up the style of this collection. Promiscuous and modest, tough and vulnerable, stoic and maudlin, elegant and clumsy, smart and naive. And by contradiction I'm talking extremes, no pansying moderation but full-on over-the-top ballsy commitment to both poles. Maybe it's that contradiction which ties the whole collection together. Each story has its own separate tone, rhythm, and vocabulary, which delightfully seems to flow straight out of the respective main character. Still, reading through the stories, you have no doubt that they belong together. Of course, they're all about Indians in the Northwest, but there's a stylistic unity as well. So much for style. As for content, I was just as hooked. The characters evoke my dream of homesick nostalgia for the West - rugged, isolated dreamers every one. And funny! Really funny. Sad, not so much, for me at least. Touching, sure, but the sad parts were too exaggerated or maybe it's just that I can't get invested enough within one short story to empathize with the characters and weep a little. But I can definitely laugh. Also, language. Even in my least favorite story The Sin Eaters (too much of that coldly sad stuff for me) certain phrases leapt out and shook me for no tangible reason. "Memory is a church on fire."But mostly, looking back, funny. Even too funny, aggressively so, trying a little too hard maybe. Sometimes with writing like this I can just see the author at the circular table of his college writing class, his prof standing above him wagging his finger saying "active verbs!" But wit is wit, and Alexie has it. "Listen, Mary Lynn had once said to Jeremiah, asking somebody why they fall in love is like asking somebody why they believe in God. You start asking questions like that, she had added, and you're either going to start a war or you're going to hear folk music."

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