Thursday, June 18, 2009

Review: A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

In his first novel, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, Michael Dorris tells the entwined stories of three generations of American Indian women. The first section is told by 15 year old Rayona, the second by Rayona’s mother Christine, and the third by Christine’s mother Ida.

The theme is the braiding together of the lives of these three headstrong women and their extended families. Parts of each story show up in the others, with the same scenes told from a different perspective at the same time new material is brought in by each narrator. While not a unique approach, Dorris handles it well.

The problem is that the characters are not likable. Rayona is a good person and trying hard, but she is so well-armored that she is not approachable. Given her upbringing, her hard shell in understandable, but it is only at the end of her story, when she breaks out and we see her potential, does she become interesting. Christine is too angry and self-destructive to like, although as she bounces from one bad decision to another, it is possible to feel sorry for her. Ida is the toughest nut of all and it is heartbreaking to watch her intentional choices set the wheels in motion.

Yellow Raft brings to life the Native American concept of “historical trauma” – that “history has caused trauma and unresolved intergenerational grief and how this trauma and grief is passed from one generation to the next.” But that is a difficult concept to contemplate and Dorris does not make it easy.


Please leave a link to your review in a comment and I will list it here.


This was my "yellow" book choice for the Colorful Reading Challenge.


  1. I'd forgotten about this novel. I remember really liking it. I like his former wife's books, too (Louise Erdrich). He wrote a really sweet little memoir, The Broken Cord, about his adopted son's fetal alcohol syndrome. Lots of controversy about him, however, after his death by suicide.

  2. I have this one, but i do not enjoy books with unlikable characters, especially since i just finished one like this :( thanks for the post though.

  3. I think this is a book that will stick with me, even though I didn't enjoy it so much while I was reading it.

    You are right, Caitlin -- LOTS of controversy. I didn't know anything about him until I read his Wikipedia page yesterday. My goodness!

    And I confess that I will be tainted in my thinking about him and his books because he was accused of molesting his daughter. I represent the victims of childhood sexual abuse in lawsuits, so I am pretty biased on the issue.


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