Indian Lawyer

"He was going one on one against
the only man who every beat him."

By William Wetherall

A version of this review appeared in
Mainichi Daily News, 8 August 1992, page 9 (Summer Reading)


James Welch
The Indian Lawyer
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990
New York: Penguin Books, 1991
349 pages, paperback
Contemporary American Fiction

James Welch, who received several literary awards for Fools Crow, has drawn from his background in Blackfeet reservation schools in Montana, and from his service on the Montana State Board of Pardons, to create Sylvester Yellow Calf, the moving and moved hero of The Indian Lawyer, an unplug-the-phone, ignore-the-doorbell, not-to-day-honey page turner in Penguin's Contemporary American Fiction Series.

Yellow Calf grows up enriched by the abandoned poverty of his reservation. He becomes a basketball star in high school and college, goes to law school, proves himself worthy of a partnership in a prestigious law firm, and is talked into running for Congress by Democratic Party organizers who need a home-spun celebrity with presence and talent. Then Yellow Calf is faced with a full court press when the parole board on which he sits denies release to a convict whose wife he has privately fallen in love with -- though publicly he is all but married to the daughter of a late state senator whose estate he had handled, while a childhood sweetheart waits for him in the recesses of that part of his soul he has left on the reservation.

Sylvester Yellow Calf is a fine character study. The story told about and around him is seamless. A number of parts you will want to read again. The final line you will never forget.