CodeTalker by Joseph Bruchac
IQ "You cannot weave a rug before you set up the loom. So I will go back to the beginning, pound the posts in the ground, and build the fame. I will start where my own story of words and warriors begins." Ned pg.3
I officially love Jospeh Bruchac. This is only my 2nd novel of his, but I enjoy his writing and his topics so very much. His books shine a much-needed spotlight on Native Americans and their history.
The author takes us back to World War II and the role that Navajos played in that war. Navajos were used as codetalkers, since their language is so complex and the Japanese had never learned it. The U.S. needed to use the Navajo language because the Japanese had learned all their other codes. As the main character, Ned Begay, points out, I found it rather ironic that a people who had been forced by the U.S. to give up their language for their country, now needed to use this language to save their country. I loved reading about how the Navajos used the code and the excerpts of their codes in the Navajo language added a crucial part (I think) to the story. It was nice being able to actually see the codes and from the codes I saw (and from what was explained), the Navajo language is hard! True any language you've never learned is hard, but it's considered one of the hardest American Indian languages to learn and only Navajos are absolutely fluent, which is why only Navajos were trained to use the code.
Once again, Mr. Bruchac provides a very detailed look at soldier life. It was interesting comparing the life of a soldier in WWII to that of a soldier fighting in the Civil War. The racial issues are essentially the same, all the Native Americans, regardless of tribe and rank are called "Chief" as in March Toward The Thunder. I also liked how the book was about the U.S. efforts in fighting the Japanese. There are so many books about the war in Europe and I thought CodeTalker helped fill in a nice niche not only on Navajo culture and codetalkers, but on the U.S. vs. the Japanese battles. Mr. Bruchac really humanized the Japanese and gave many details on their life and military fighting style that I found very helpful (being a prisoner of war is considered disgraceful and cowardly to the Japanese, it is better to commit suicide or be killed in battle). Personally, I would have liked to read more about WWII experiences that the Navajos had. The books is a bit long, but each chapter is relatively short and I would have liked to read a little more details about the battles. The characters were pretty well-rounded and developed, but I would have liked to see a little more interaction of Ned with the other characters and really see them grow.
It made my blood boil when I learned that the Navajos were not recognized for their sacrifices. They had to keep their work as codetalkers top secret, in case it was needed again so no one (including their families) learned about what they did until the '60s. Also the Navajos (I think this may apply for all Native Americans actually) weren't allowed to use the G.I. Bill to build their homes on the reservations.
I highly recommend this book once again. I think it's essential that not only Navajos and other Native Americans read this book, but all Americans. We need to honor all our veterans and I don't think the Navajo codetalkers have received full recognition yet, their stories aren't being told in all classrooms throughout the U.S. Even if you don't love historical fiction, this book is a good intro into the U.S. struggles against the Japanese.
I leave you with this quote: "It is not just my story, but a story of our people and of the strength that we gain from holding on to our language, from being Dine'. I pray that none of you will ever go into battle as I did. I also pray that you will fight to keep our language, to hold on to it with the same warrior spirit that our Indian people showed in that war. Let our language keep you strong and you will never forget what it is to be Navajo. You will never forget what it means to walk in beauty." Ned pg. 214
ETA: Check out this link with some awesome videos done by the Navajo codetalkers about their role in WWII as well as another good review. Go here for both :) Thanks Jill O. for drawing my attention to this great review!