Laughing Boy is a 1929 novel by Oliver LaFarge, set amongst the Navajo at around the same time period. Oliver LaFarge was an anthropologist who was sympathetic to Native American affairs, and most of his work, both fiction and non-fiction, deals with this subject matter.

"Laughing Boy" is set in the Navajo Nation, in the early part of the 20th century (specific historical events are not a big part of the novel). It concerns the titular character, Laughing Boy, who meets a girl, Slim Girl, who was a Navajo who had been raised in missionary schools. She is trying to reconnect with Navajo culture, and a relationship with Laughing Boy lets her do so. Laughing Boy is a more traditional Navajo, although he is still trying to navigate the changes in his world. But Slim Girl's past also has hidden complications that will bring the novel to its climax.

This book was apparently quite a critical and commercial success when it was released, being well-regarded enough to win the 1930 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and being made into a movie in 1934. Despite its popularity at the time, it doesn't seem to be well-known today, and I hadn't heard of it before I chanced upon a copy.

Unusually for its time, and even somewhat rare for any books on the topic, "Laughing Boy" has a very realistic, even treatment of Native Americans. It portrays them neither as backwards or violent (which would have probably been the prevailing view at the time of writing), nor (as some modern works would have it) as somehow mystically and spiritually superior. Although Native American traditions and religious beliefs are described respectfully, they are also shown as just a piece of the psychological world of the main characters.

Although the book is somewhat obscure today, I found it an interesting read both from a literary point of view and as a historical record both of Native American life, and its perception by the rest of American culture.

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