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Black Hills is a novel written by American sci-fi novelist Dan Simmons; Dan Simmons has been for some time my favourite current author. He wrote the brilliant Hyperion, then cemented in my mind as best author around at the moment with Drood. Black Hills is his latest novel, and like all Simmons novels it's compelling fascinating and different to anything else he's ever written.
Black Hills tells the life story of Papa Saha, Papa is a Native American and at the Battle of Little Big Horn sees George Custer's last moments, at the moment of death Custer jumps into the spirit of the 11 year old Native American. Papa Saha means black hills in his native north Dakota tongue and he is a member of Sioux, living around the six grandfathers which is a mountain also known as Mount Rushmore.
The story is told through the eyes of Papa Saha, and starts with his employment in the creation of the Mount Rushmore carving of the four president's heads in 1936. The story then goes to and from this point into Papa's past, starting with meeting of Custer, meeting Sitting Bull and incorporating Sitting Bulls personality into his mental furniture.
These two meetings happen early on in Papa's life and are described in the first few chapters of the novel but the overriding sense in this novel is sadness for the fate of the Native Americans in the Dakota region of America.
Papa Saha has personal insights into the history of that part of the world, he was there when Custer died and met the great Indian chief Sitting Bull. This is contrasted with the building of the Mount Rushmore project on a sacred mountain to the Native Americans; Papa Saha both hates and loves the project. Hate in terms of the oppression of the local populace and love for the method of building the monument.
The nuances and craziness which are the voices of Sitting Bull and Custer which are both in his head don't help his mental toughness and he slowly slides into designing elaborate plots to destroy the monument.
The book moves around a lot at start, jumping from the 1930's, back to 1880's and we get chapters written in the voice of Custer as well. Custer's chapters are strangely explicit full of very explicit details about the sex life of Custer and his wife, the longing for his wife is evident and Papa Saha carries the cares for a woman he's never met before. The ending for the book and brings together all the lines of stories which engulf the central character of Papa Saha, the ending involves the Brooklyn bridge, Mount Rushmore and the strange ending for Papa Saha of the First World War.
This book is a triumph creating a great story of the travails of a Native American with special abilities for taking the souls and tribulations of men at the end of their lives, so this turns into a tale of Papa, Custer, Sitting Bull and the world of America in the 1930's. Simmons once again creates a believable world and a great story.