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


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


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.

Sara Jaye

I picked this up because it was cheap in a used bookstore, and I'm glad I did. It really reminded me what I love about Alexie (which Flight, which I'd read most recently, didn't exactly). Alexie never steps away from complexity, but is never melodramatic. Walking that line is both admirable, and a great read. On a side note, I think that Alexie is probably the best writer I can think of off the top of my head who is openly straight and addresses queer/nonhetero issues in his writing AMAZINGLY. I still have a text my sister sent me from a reading of his that I wasn't able to make: "So...I think it's important to homoeroticize my experiences."


Sherman Alexie is one of my favorite authors...and not just because he is from the Northwest. This book is short stories-the movie Smoke Signals is based on another book of his short stories "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" (Which is also a good read).Check him out. Some of the stories are just heartbreaking, but they are all clever and worth a read. Sherman Alexie's story is also worth looking into. He grew up on a reservation right outside of Spokane and was one of the first members of his tribe to get a college degree. There's more to it than that, but you don't have to take my word for it duh nuh nuh.

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.


I was moved to tears by several of the stories. I was totally surprised as I bought this secondhand book after reading his youth novel, The Absolutely True...which my 12 year old LOVED and which I also though was amazing (buy this book for any tween or teen male). I was not prepared for the sexual turns, the adultness of the material. Which was wonderfully done. I loved his humor and turns of phrase, his gender notes and homoeroticism. Also, noticed my feelings of pain as the outsider... the white and that is an essay in itself as I often read the ugly references to blacks, native peoples, women, asians, or how about other than white, in the general fiction out there and wonder at the suffering of readers who hold aspects of the pilloried identities.I Love the magic/fantasy that shows up in so many of his stories. I really loved South by Southwest.. the gentleman bandit story that is so fantastical. John Wayne, The Sin Eaters... I think he is a masterful storyteller and the nuggets of wisdom, truth, uncovering, suffering, self reflection, calling out and tenderness work for me. I'm a fan.


Native Americans are the greatest story tellers. Sherman Alexie is the best of the best. This is the best book of short stories that I have ever read. One of the things I liked the most about it was that while each story carries some of the same themes of how being a Native American is ironically kind of like being a stranger in a strange land, the characters in each story are all unique and three dimensional. I liked that I was able to hear the voice of a reservation Indian telling these stories...complete with the inflections and accent inherent in their speech. I liked the marriage of the dream world, and spirit world with the physical world throughout the book. I liked the way Alexie describes each character's motivations and inner struggles. If you have ever met an Indian from any reservation anywhere in the United States, you will SO get this book.

Melissa Namba

I enjoyed reading these short stories. Sherman Alexie writes in a clear and accessible manner and draws the reader into the stories without effort. I laugh as I think about the little racist it brought out in me. I work as a cashier and for the last few days, whenever I have had a Native American come through my line, I want to bring up Sherman Alexie and ask all sorts of questions. Now, as an Asian, I have been on the receiving end of these questions and I know no matter how polite and genuine the interest of a stranger is, it is always a little offensive. So I hold my tongue. But Alexie's writing makes me feel like I know all Native Americans (particularly the Spokane ones) and like I am a part of that group. Truly effective writing to get me to emotionally go that far. Sometimes the characters are not really likeable but they are still very vivid.


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.

Matthew Wayne Smith

Sherman Alexie will challenge you. In this collection of short stories, Alexie will challenge what you think about race, sexuality, the politics of education, and many other topics. As a white person, I enjoyed reading a work that made me consider how a modern Native American might view his/her place and situation in the present U.S. Plus, Alexie's writing is at times slightly absurd and crazy (at least it seems that way sometimes, which I believe is intentional).

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.

Ronald Wise

Sherman Alexie has been attracting attention for his poetry and fiction since the early 1990s, when he was in his late twenties. This collection of short stories took its title from one of the stories therein, which was originally published by The New Yorker. The most obvious thread in common to all these stories is the presence of Native American characters living in a white-dominant society. The central characters, however, vary in the degree of assimulation, and the objects of their efforts are not unique to their ethnicity — their expectations, approaches, and reactions often are.The events related in these stories seem to be directly or tangentially related to the author's personal experiences: Coming from the Spokane Indian Reservation and making a life for himself in the greater world, which for him thus far is the Northwest, and specifically Seattle; Leaving the rez in search of the success not possible there, while experiencing a perpetual sense of loss as the physical and temporal distance from one's roots grows; Attempting to live with people about whom one's knowledge is based predominantly on movies and television, and dealing with a dominant culture whose expections of you have the same basis.In each of these stories, however, Alexie presents a close-up of both societies that jars the reader's concept of American society. Perhaps there is a unique Native American way of seeing things, or a specific ethnic sense of humor. Or perhaps it's simply how a conquered people perceives the dominant group as portrayed through its commercial media. The dialogues in these stories — both internal and interpersonal — are well worth reading carefully.I found something meaningful in each of these stories, but my favorite was "South by Southwest". Especially thought-provoking in this one was the way in which Alexie tries to tease apart the emotional needs of closeness to another human being, and the sexual aspects of that closeness. This was a perfect example of how Alexie can take specific individuals and produce a cross-section of the human experience which spans cultures and time.I have some Native American history in my own family and have met many people of Native American identity over the years. Reading this book, I kept looking at the author's photograph on the back cover and wondering if I hadn't met this man before. Deciding I probably hadn't, I wish that I had or possibly might. Alexie's fiction seems to contain a great deal of autobiographical material, and I like to believe more of it is based on his experiences than is probably so. I look forward to reading more of his fiction.


The story that made it into Alexie's film The Business of Fancydancing, "Saint Junior," was fantastic. The scene from the film, where the protagonist faces down the official from the standardized testing service--here called Colonial Aptitude Test!--was just beautiful.

Nancy Kampfe

Excellent book! Alexie's point of view is always refreshing and so honest.


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.

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