Buffalo Soldier

Buffalo Soldier

Buffalo Soldier
Tanya Landman

Walker Books Ltd

ISBN 9781406314595

Winner of the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2015, this is a beautiful piece of historical fiction told with heart and humanity. Winner of the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2015. "What kind of a girl steals the clothes from a dead man's back and runs off to join the army? A desperate one. That's who." At the end of the American Civil War, Charley - a young African-American slave from the deep south - is ostensibly freed. But then her adopted mother is raped and lynched at the hands of a mob and Charley is left alone. In a terrifyingly lawless land, where the colour of a person's skin can bring violent death, Charley disguises herself as a man and joins the army. Soon she's being sent to the prairies to fight a whole new war against the "savage Indians". Trapped in a world of injustice and inequality, it's only when Charley is posted to Apache territory that she begins to learn what it is to be truly free.

Librarian's Book choice

Apache was the Shadowing group's favourite book of the 2008 Carnegie shortlist and I am sure many of the fans of that stunning book will be as eager as me to rediscover that era of American history at the hands of an author who can bring it to life so vividly and so convincingly. I was fascinated to read Tanya’s description of what brought her to write about this period: http://www.ink-slingers.co.uk/post/79252145599/tanya-landman-on-her-inspirations-behind-buffalo. I, too, had my views of American history permanently coloured by the film Little Big Man and by Alex Haley's Roots, but until reading this I had not really connected the two. Shame on me!

This tells the story of a girl who moves from a slave to eventual freedom via the American Civil War and active service in one of the black regiments of the American Army, nicknamed the 'Buffalo Soldiers'.

This is a story which would be deemed completely incredible if it were not based upon the true story of Catherine Williams who enlisted and served as a man, William Cather. This is an incredibly powerful novel which does not flinch from the brutality and horror of the period and that is absolutely as it should be. It would be an insult to the memory of all those who suffered and died to pretend it was anything but appalling. But there is not a single gratuitous sentence and there is also hope and beauty, humour and indomitable human spirit.

The narrative voice never falters and the reading experience is completely immersive and unforgettable. Valuable lessons of history are taken to heart and live with you when you experience them through fiction, as is proved by the impact of Little Big Man and Roots upon the author and upon me and countless others I suspect. Apache and now the intense and superbly well written Buffalo Soldier will have the same effect upon today's teenagers.

Reviewed by Joy Court, librarian


Buffalo Soldier5/5

Buffalo Soldier

Tanya Landman


Tanya Landman has written an important book here, one which, as the reviews say, examines the 'true meaning of freedom'. However, it is also extremely readable, and has a main character and narrator with who one immediately identifies, and whose narrative voice is authentic and likeable. Charlotte (or Charley) is a freed slave, at the start of the American Civil War, but she soon discovers that this so called liberty is a hollow victory, as former slaves have no obvious way of making a living. After her little family unit is torn apart, in a scene which is shocking but sensitively handled, Charley dresses as a boy for her own safety and eventually enlists in the US army, in one of the black American regiments (the 'Buffalo soldiers' of the title and Bob Marley's song, incidentally!). She thrives in this environment, although she can never be her true self, and the inequalities of life in the army for black soldiers is evident. The army's main job at this time, of course, was to subdue the Native American population, and slowly, Charlie begins to question this. She realises, along with the reader, that there are layers upon layers of inequality and injustice, and she starts to identify with the Apache warriors she has to fight. The narrative voice is a strong element of the book, and helps portray Charley's character as well as telling the story in a matter of fact way that adds to the reader's understanding of the historical context and the ethical issues. A deserving winner of the Carnegie Award 2015, and a book to be highly recommended. 368 pages / Ages 14+ / Reviewed by Carol Williams, librarian.

Reviewed by: Carol Williams