Sequoyah And The Cherokee Alphabet, by Robert Cwiklik
I sincerely hope that this author didn’t receive any taxpayer money in order to write this book, because if so he deserves to be sued for restitution. As someone who reads more than his share of literature aimed at young people , I found this to be among the worst sort of books that are aimed at young people. To be sure, this book was not badly written. Its offenses are in terms of its pedagogical value as well as its historical value, not in terms of its style or its subject matter, for the most part. Given the extent of the historical sins of this particular volume, and the ominous fact that it is part of series of biographies aimed at young readers, one wonders if the author was merely incompetent at mastering the subject material in an accurate way or if there was deliberate mangling of the historical account in order to paint Sequoyah in a more positive fashion. It is hard to tell whether this book, in other words, is due to the author’s incompetence or malfeasance as a history, a matter of particular importance when one is teaching to children and can be legitimately accused with teaching them lies.
In terms of its contents and structure, this book is only about 130 pages or so. The bibliography for this book is extremely short, so it does not appear as if the author has a great deal of mastery of his subject. The contents of the book are divided into nineteen chapters, begin with a possibly invented and politically correct encounter with a phrenologist trying to impress the corrupt 19th century Cherokee chief John Ross, and then goes back to Cherokee’s upbringing in a broken family where his supposedly drunken ne’er do well of a father abandoned his family in order to save his own skin, and where young Sequoyah grows up raised by his mother and by his uncles. By the time he finds himself lame, while still a child, there is a heavily embellished account of illness after many more embellished childhood stories. It is nearly 3/4 into the book by the time Sequoyah’s insight into the sounds that make up language is described among a Cherokee nation concerned that he might be engaged in some sort of witchcraft by inventing his famous Cherokee syllabary.
What this book does is take the life of a famous person and paint it in several ways that are contrary to history. On the one hand, the author follows an ancient practice that has fallen under deserved ill repute among contemporary historians in inventing conversations and incidents in the absence of evidence. Additionally, the author conflates stories relating the subject’s first marriage with his second marriage, and downplays Sequyah’s own struggles with alcoholism in order to distance himself from his family tradition of broken families and addiction and make him a more heroic but also less real figure. On top of these errors, the author also manages to give the book a stridently anti-white tone that is extremely offensive to readers who do not have a leftist political agenda. This book fails as history, and ends up being propaganda aimed at children, among the worst sort of literature that exists. Ultimately, this book only has value insofar as it exists to be debunked and corrected by those who are legitimate historians and in order to know the source of myths that are repeated by teachers or readers without awareness of the inaccuracy of this book’s reportage. That value is not worth reading even a modestly sized book as this one is.
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