The Cost of Free Land: Jews, Lakota, and an American Inheritance

Books on Tape. Oct. 2023. 9:27 hrs. ISBN 9780593789674. $95. HIST
Investigative reporter and novelist Clarren (Kickdown) offers an account of her Jewish ancestors, who escaped centuries of antisemitic pogroms in Russia and made their way to the United States in the early 19th century. At the time, political leaders wanted to reduce the number of immigrants in cities, so they encouraged the newly arrived to head west. Clarren’s family settled in South Dakota. When “free” land became available through the Homesteading Act, they acquired as much as they could, unaware that the land on offer had been taken from the Lakota Nation. Narrating her own work, Clarren provides a clear yet emotional account of her family history and the wider implications, uncovering the racist, patriarchal, and illegal methods the U.S. government used to deprive Indigenous peoples of the reservation lands promised to them. Clarren compares her family’s financially successful trajectory to the often insurmountable roadblocks confronting Indigenous peoples. The book also embarks on a path to reconciliation and forgiveness of the sort outlined in Jewish tradition.
VERDICT Clarren lays bare the many wrongs inflicted on Indigenous peoples and suggests possible means of making reparations. An eye-opening book exploring the author’s family history against a troubling historical backdrop.
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