Indeh: A Story of the Apache Wars By Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth
4.5 of 5 Stars
Full Disclosure: I got this book for free from a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review.
Second disclosure: I didn’t really read the description of the book before I entered the giveaway. I saw that it was a history book, and clicked. As such, I was immensely surprised when a beautifully illustrated graphic novel showed up on my doorstep a few days later.
Indeh is a work of art. Greg Ruth’s black and white images are beautifully done and arrestingly composed. There is so much detail to each panel, whether in the subtleties of expression in a character close up, or in the grim background details of a two page spread depicting a massacre. You feel yourself lingering on each page, soaking in as much as you can.
As to the story, Ethan Hawke (yes, that one. No “Gattaca” jokes, please) brings us the story of Goyahkla, later to be known as Geronimo, as the Apache people struggle to survive a war against the grinding machine of the American Army. The story is based on real events, though I am (I’m ashamed to say) unfamiliar with the Apache Wars. For those history-minded folks like me, Hawke provides a decent bibliography at the end of the book, allowing the reader to dive deeper in the story if they want. I expect I’ll be reading quite a few of these books in the future. (As an aside, I love it when authors do this, even in fiction. The most recent example that comes to mind is the gloriously dark The Trench Angel by Michael Keenan Gutierrez)
The narrative of “Indeh” is told primarily from the Apache point of view, focusing primarily on the deeds of Geronimo and Naiches (son of the Apache Chief). There are occasional flips over to the point of view of the American army officers tasked with subduing and “pacifying” the Apache, but this story is meant to be a primarily Apache one. In my view, the central Apache characters are treated well by Hawke. The Apache are eminently sympathetic; after all, their land, culture, and people are being systematically crushed by an armed force that considers them nuisances and savages. But Hawke doesn’t fall into the trap of resting with the “noble savage” or “spiritual warrior” trope that so many (white) authors seem to. His Apache characters are sympathetic, and they are brutal. They are heroes, and they are ruthless. In other words, they are fully, simply, human. They are not perfect, but they are doing all they can to preserve their people and way of life.
In the afterword, Hawke tells us that Indeh started as a failed screenplay. It seems that Hollywood felt that a movie about the Apache Wars, with a primarily Native American cast, would never get off the ground. From this disappointment, the book was born. I am glad this story is out there in this form. The visceral style of Ruth’s illustrations paired well with the brutal realities of war, and the story, advanced through dialogue rather than exposition, is engaging. After reading “Indeh,” I think there might be a market for narrative historical graphic novels (raise your hand if you’d like to see The Devil in the White City turned into a graphic novel). I also wonder if this would be a good medium for native artists to get these histories out in the public sphere. As I’ve said, Hawke does a wonderful job of telling this story from an Apache viewpoint, but I do wonder how an Apache author or artist would have told it.
In sum, this is a great afternoon’s read (and on top of that, you’ll probably learn something). If you’re into history, graphic novels, or war stories, this is probably a good bet for you. Just be warned that due to the limitations of the medium, Hawke has to simplify or skip over some bits, so you’ll probably find yourself moving to the bibliography afterward, looking for more.