Book Review:  Red Paint: The Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk by Sasha LaPointe

Red Paint is an intense, well-written, and touching autobiography by a Native American writer from the Pacific Northwest. As the biographical paragraph in the back of the book says, she is “a Coast Salish author from the Nooksack and Upper Skagit Indian tribes.” Her middle name is also listed on the cover, but it is written in the Lushootseed language and my keyboard cannot cope with some of the characters.

Much of the power of this book (and it is very powerful) comes from LaPointe’s perspective as a Native American. Her childhood and youth are traumatic. Her parents move from one makeshift shelter to another. At the age of ten she is abused by an older man. When she is fourteen she runs away from home and drifts from place to place. Right after she gets married, even before their already-planned honeymoon, her husband, a musician, leaves her to go on tour with his band. They never reconcile and eventually separate. She gets pregnant and then loses the baby to a miscarriage. All of this sounds like one tragic episode after another, and a lot of tragic events do take place in this book, but the tragedy only sets the background for the triumph.

Despite the turmoil of her past and present, LaPointe continues to do graduate work in poetry and nonfiction. A comment by one of her teachers causes her to focus on her ancestry. The stabilizing power that runs through her narrative is the inner strength she discovers as she researches the lives of the women from whom she is descended: her mother, her grandmother, her great-grandmother, and her great-great-grandmother. From them she inherits and draws on the spiritual power to endure and prosper despite her many setbacks. She seeks healing from the spirit sickness she suffers throughout much of the book in her ancestry, specifically in the stories passed down to her from her female progenitors.

Red Paint is a fairly short book; it almost reads like a prose poem. Its brevity gives it strength. It stays on track; it does not meander off on side paths. Every word and every sentence is composed with precision. The amazing thing about it is that despite everything that LaPointe goes through, despite the assaults and betrayals she endures, she does not tell her story out of a perspective of bitterness, but rather from a position of having sought and found healing.

Thanks to the author’s formidable talent, this book is one of those rare treasures that opens a portal into another world, the world the author inhabits. LaPointe’s blatant honesty lets readers into her heart and allows us to temporarily share it with her. This empathetic link causes us to feel her pains, dread her fears, become uplifted by her joys, and achieve a measure of peace as she embraces the perspectives, culture, and rituals of her forebears.

In conclusion, Red Paint is a powerful memoir of breaking through to serenity after surviving extreme physical and spiritual turmoil. Highly recommended.

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