Thomas Berger Little Big Man: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780385298292

Little Big Man: A Novel

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9780385298292: Little Big Man: A Novel
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“The truth is always made up of little particulars which sound ridiculous when repeated.” So says Jack Crabb, the 111-year-old narrator of Thomas Berger’s 1964 masterpiece of American fiction, Little Big Man. Berger claimed the Western as serious literature with this savage and epic account of one man’s extraordinary double life.

After surviving the massacre of his pioneer family, ten-year-old Jack is adopted by an Indian chief who nicknames him Little Big Man. As a Cheyenne, he feasts on dog, loves four wives, and sees his people butchered by horse soldiers commanded by General George Armstrong Custer. Later, living as a white man once more, he hunts the buffalo to near-extinction, tangles with Wyatt Earp, cheats Wild Bill Hickok, and fights in the Battle of Little Bighorn alongside Custer himself—a man he’d sworn to kill. Hailed by The Nation as “a seminal event,” Little Big Man is a singular literary achievement that, like its hero, only gets better with age.

Praise for Little Big Man
 
“An epic such as Mark Twain might have given us.”—Henry Miller
 
“The very best novel ever about the American West.”The New York Times Book Review
 
“Spellbinding . . . [Crabb] surely must be one of the most delightfully absurd fictional fossils ever unearthed.”Time
 
“Superb . . . Berger’s success in capturing the points of view and emotional atmosphere of a vanished era is uncanny. His skill in characterization, his narrative power and his somewhat cynical humor are all outstanding.”The New York Times

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About the Author:

Thomas Berger, whom the Times Literary Supplement has called “one of the century’s most important writers,” is the author of twenty-three novels. Little Big Man has been published in more than fifty editions throughout the world.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER 1 A Terrible Mistake
 
I AM A WHITE MAN and never forgot it, but I was brought up by the Cheyenne Indians from the age of ten.
 
My Pa had been a minister of the gospel in Evansville, Indiana. He didn’t have a regular church, but managed to talk some saloonkeeper into letting him use his place of a Sunday morning for services. This saloon was down by the riverfront and the kind of people would come in there was Ohio River boatmen, Hoosier fourflushers on their way to New Orleans, pickpockets, bullyboys, whores, and suchlike, my Pa’s favorite type of congregation owing to the possibilities it afforded for the improvement of a number of mean skunks.
 
The first time he come into the saloon and started to preach, that bunch was fixing to lynch him, but he climbed on top of the bar and started to yell and in a minute or two they all shut up and listened. My Pa could handle with his voice any white man that ever lived, though he was only of the middle height and skinny as a pick handle. What he’d do, you see, was to make a person feel guilty of something they never thought of. Distraction was his game. He’d stare with his blazing eyes at some big, rough devil off the boats and shout: “How long’s it been you ain’t seen your old Ma?” Like as not that fellow would scrape his feet and honk his nose in his sleeve, and when my brothers and sisters carried around cleaned-out spittoons for the collection, remember us kindly for our pains.
 
Pa split the collection with the saloonkeeper, which was part of the reason he was let to use the place. The other part was that the bar stayed open throughout the service. My Pa wasn’t no Puritan. He’d take a shot or three himself right while he was preaching, and was never known to say a word against the drink, or women, or cards, or any of the pleasures. “Every kind of sport has been invented by the Lord and therefore can’t be bad in itself,” he would say. “It’s only bad when the pursuit of it makes a man into a mean skunk who will cuss and spit and chew and never wash his face.” These were the only specific sins I ever heard my Pa mention. He never minded a cigar, but was dead set against chewing tobacco, foul language, and dirt on a person. So long as a man was clean, my Pa didn’t care whether he drank himself to death, gambled away every cent so that his kids starved, or got sick from frequenting low women.
 
I never suspected it at that time, being just a young boy, but I realize now that my Pa was a lunatic. Whenever he wasn’t raving he would fall into the dumps and barely answer when he was spoke to, and at his meals he was single-minded as an animal in filling his belly. Before he got religion he was a barber, and even afterward he cut the hair of us kids, and I tell you if the spirit come over him at such a time it was indeed a scaring experience: he would holler and jump and like as not take a piece of your neck flesh with his scissor just as soon as he would hair.
 
My Pa was making out right well in that saloon—although it is true there was a movement afoot among the regular preachers to run him out of town because he was stealing their congregations aside from them middle-aged women who prefer the ordinary kind of Christianity that forbids everything—when he suddenly decided he ought to go to Utah and become a Mormon. Among other things he liked the Mormon idea that a man is entitled to a number of wives. The point is that other than cussing, chewing, etc., my Pa was all for freedom of every type. He wasn’t interested himself in having an additional wife, but liked the principle. That’s why my Ma didn’t mind. She was a tiny little woman with a round, innocent face faintly freckled, and when Pa got too excited on a day when he wasn’t going to preach and work off his steam, she would make him undress and sit in a barrel-half and would scrub his back with a brush, which calmed him down after about fifteen minutes.
 
Pa took us all to Independence, Missouri, where he bought a wagon and team of ox, and we set out on the California Trail. That was near as I can figure the spring of 1852, but we still run into a number of poor devils going out on the arse-end of the gold rush that started in ’48. Before long we had accumulated a train of seven wagon and two horse, and the others had elected Pa as leader, though he didn’t know no more about crossing the plains than I do about the lingo of the heathen Chinese who in later years was to work sixteen hours a day building the Central Pacific Railroad. But given to shouting the way he was, I think they figured since they couldn’t shut him up, might as well make him boss. Then too, every night stop he would preach around the fire, and they all required that, because like everybody who gives up everything for the sake of one big idea, they periodically lost all of their hopes. I ought to give a sample of my Pa’s preaching since if we don’t hear from him soon we’ll never get another chance, but it wouldn’t mean much a hundred year away and in a Morris chair or wherever the reader is sitting, when it was originally delivered by evening on the open prairie next a sweetish-smelling fire of dried buffalo dung. It might seem just crazy, without showing any of the real inspiration in it, which was a matter of sound rather than sense, I think, though that may be only because I was a kid at the time. The ironical thing is that my Pa was somewhat like an Indian.
 
Indians. Now and again, crossing the Nebraska Territory, following the muddy Platte, we would encounter small bands of Pawnee. Indians was Indians to me and of course as a kid I approved of them generally because they didn’t seem to have a purpose. The ones we saw would always appear coming over the next divide when the train was a quarter mile away, and would mope along on their ponies as if they were going right on past and then suddenly turn when they got alongside and come over to beg food. What they wanted was coffee and would try to get you to stop and brew them a pot, rather than hand out a piece of bacon rind or lump of sugar while rolling. I believe what they preferred even better than the coffee, though, was to bring our progress to a halt. Nothing drives an Indian crazy like regular, monotonous movement. That’s why they not only never invented the wheel, but never even took it up after the white man brought it, as long as they stayed wild, though they were quick enough to grab the horse and the gun and steel knife.
 
But they really did favor coffee, too, and would sit on their blankets, nodding and saying “How, how” after every sip, and then they chewed the biscuit my Ma would also hand, out, and said “How, how” after every swallow of that as well.
 
Pa, as you might expect, was much taken with Indians because they did what they pleased, and he always tried to involve them in a philosophical discussion, which was hopeless on account of they didn’t know any English and he didn’t even know sign language. And it is a pity, for as I found out in time to come, there is no one who loves to spout hot air like a redskin.
 
When the Pawnee were finished they would get up, pick their teeth with their fingers, say “How, how” a couple of times more, climb on their ponies and ride off, with never a word of thanks; but some of them might shake hands, a practice they were just learning from the white man, and as anything an Indian takes up becomes a mania with him, those that did would shake with every individual in the train, man, woman, and child and baby in the cradle; I was only surprised they didn’t grab an ox by the right forefoot.
 
They never said thanks because it wasn’t in their etiquette at that time, and they had already shown their courtesy with them incessant “how-how’s,” which is to say, “good, good.” You can look the world over without finding anyone more mannerly than an Indian. The point of these visits had somewhat to do with manners, because these fellows were not beggars in the white sense, the kind of degenerates I seen in big cities who had no other means of support. In the Indian code, if you see a stranger you either eat with him or fight him, but more often you eat with him, fighting being too important an enterprise to waste on somebody you hardly know. We all could have run into one of their camps, and they would have had to feed us.
 

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780848804299: Little Big Man

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ISBN 10:  0848804295 ISBN 13:  9780848804299
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