A Booklist Editors' Choice in both the Adult and Young Adult categories
Michael Dorris's widely acclaimed novel, deemed by many a contemporary classic, spans some forty years, and is set throughout the Pacific Northwest and the West, primarily on a Montana Indian reservation. A Yellow Raft in Blue Water is a moving, deftly constructed, true-to-life saga of three generations of American Indian women, each beset by hardship, frustration, anger, and other inner—and outer—conflicts. However, the magic and brilliance of this book is that these women are also inextricably joined together by the indissoluble bonds of kinship.
Moving backward in time, the novel is "told" to the reader by three distinct and unforgettable heroine-narrators, beginning with the granddaughter Rayona (or Ray, as she is commonly known). On her own at fifteen, Ray is lonely and vulnerable, yet also brave and resilient. She is tough and smart, and is desperately in search of roots and a home—a search made all the more complicated by her mixed ancestry. (Her mother is American Indian and her absent father is Black.)
Next comes Christine, Ray's mother. A bitter child of the reservation, Christine grew up a devout Catholic, believing in—and waiting for—the end of the world. When such a cataclysm failed to materialize, she lost not only her faith but her grasp on existence itself. Later, she lost perhaps the only person she fully loved, her brother Lee. Christine is upset, naturally, at the awful breaks she keeps getting, but moreover she is painfully at odds with how life is supposed to be lived.
And finally there is the fierce and mysterious Ida, Christine's stern mother and Ray's taciturn grandmother. Ida's haunting secrets, betrayals, and dreams—which we do not encounter until the concluding chapters—echo through the years, enriching A Yellow Raft in Blue Water in ways both surprising and stirring. By novel's end, the shared past of these three women, a cycle of mystery, loss, and neglect, collides with the uncertain yet hopeful future to create a wise, profound, life-affirming story of familial endearment and individual enlightenment.
"Three portraits of remarkable psychological density . . . each of these women speaks to us directly; and together, their voices form a chorus echoing through four decades of family history."—The New York Times
"Eloquent . . . much of the power of Yellow Raft lies in its strong and disparate voices, each of a female generation, entwined with the others and yet fighting for breath."—The Boston Globe
"An unforgettable portrait of Native Americans . . . a rich, multi-layered portrayal of complex events . . . the language is straight from the barrel, and the emotions conjured up are straight from the heart."—Newsday
"A marvel . . . crosses boundaries of sex, age, and culture in one leap and carries you forward without a backward glance, a question, or an eyebrow raised at his chutzpah. Michael Dorris does it with such precise and devastating knowledge of the emotional and cultural terrain that only when you've finally put the novel down do you glance at it wistfully, like some grateful slob wondering about the identity of that masked man already retreating into the foothills."—Chicago magazine
"First rate . . . these women are beautifully realized."—Anatole Broyard, The New York Times Book Review
"Michael Dorris gives us not just one tough, hard-fighting woman, but three, their stories unified by the theme of tenacious love. The pace is breakneck, the dialogue nothing short of brilliant, and the women bound to win hearts. Yellow Raft is a bull's-eye of a novel."—Josephine Humphreys
"This is a splendid and enormously moving first novel. Michael Dorris writes with compassion and wit and intelligence, and the remarkable ability to expose the possibility of joy at the heart of human existence. A Yellow Raft in Blue Water is a wonderful book!"—Robb Forman Dew
"Poignant and true . . . the overlapping life histories of Rayona, Christine, and Aunt Ida serve as a reminder of the many disguises that love can take . . . Michael Dorris is a wonderful storyteller and a gifted, highly original writer whose style is as evocative of his part of the country and its distinctive culture as the best writing out of the South."—The Baltimore Sun
"Cleverly illuminating . . . The writing is fresh and graceful . . . the characters are human and very real. These three women tell a story that is more just plain American than American Indian, more just plain human than American."—The Rocky Mountain News (Denver)
"This is an absolutely wonderful book: Yellow Raft is a priceless contribution to American literature and I hope Michael Dorris keeps writing forever."—Gloria Naylor, author of The Women of Brewster Place
"Beautifully written . . . What Michael Dorris has woven together are the strands of three lives, and he has done so with an artistry that never wavers. All three women . . . are unforgettable."—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Heartbeat by heartbeat . . . grandmother, mother, and daughter seem to live their youth, middle age, and great age simultaneously . . . timelessly . . . as though three generations know one joy, one heartache. Yet the endurance of the novel's voice is a victory over age, over death . . . that lives longer than the space of the novel."—Carolyn Chute, author of The Beans of Egypt, Maine
"One set of events—three gripping views . . . that add heft and dimension to the book's abundant humanity."—Detroit News
"Earns admiration from first page to last . . . Suspenseful, constantly gripping, original in its characters and settings, and finally, profoundly moving."—People