Tanya Longman's short-listed, historical YA novel Buffalo Solider, is a fascinating tale which stretches from the period leading up to the American Civil War through the Indian Wars to the waning of the Wild West. What makes Buffalo Solider stand out isn’t just the impeccable writing and gripping voice but the perspective. Most books, films and documentaries about this period in US history usually centre on the political struggles in the exclusively white Washington or the battles between the Yankees and the Confederates. Few texts give heed to the people that the outcome of the war affected most or the ramifications it had on those who were enslaved. In Buffalo Solider, Tanya Langman has tackled this subject from the eyes of Charlotte, a slave on a plantation, whose world is ripped apart by war and the promise of freedom.
Charlotte’s voice is compelling and uncompromising; showing a girl with great resolve and sprit who witnesses the horrors of war and soon discovers that freedom doesn't mean safe. With no home, food, or prospects and ever growing racial hatred, Charlotte takes extraordinary measures to keep safe.
‘What kind of girl steals the clothes from a dead man’s back and run’s off to join the army? A desperate one that’s who.’
Hiding in plain sight, Charlotte becomes Charlie and lives by man’s rules. She rises up the ranks in the new Black Army Legion, Company W, fighting the ‘savage’ Native American and negotiating the hostilities of the rival white legions.
“…I find that there aint nothing that makes you feel quite so alive as when you’re staring Death right in the face and every second might be your last.”
As Charlie, becomes a weathered solider and the role of the ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ becomes more than just fighting Indians but moving them to reservations and rounding up any who flee, she beings to inwardly question the orders and motives of them folks back in Washington.
“The Indians got the army telling them they gotta stay put on the reservation, else they’ll be shot. But I seen with my own eyes that the food they been promised don’t show up the whole of the following winter and the whole winter is a long time to go without eating and them folks start to starve.”
Despite the horrors and injustice that Charlie see’s in her time as a buffalo solider it’s her personal nightmares that haunt her the most. The fear of boy from her childhood, with blue eyes and golden curls like an angel; Jonas. Charlie’s life becomes infinitely more difficult when Jonas becomes captain of Company W.
“The last thing I see Jonas do is point at me with one hand. He put the other to the side of his neck and clench it into a fist. Then he jerks it up sudden, cocks his head to the side, lets his tongue loll out like he’s been hanged.”
Landman has written and book that grips you from page one and doesn’t let go until the final line. Charlotte is a strong and empathetic protagonist that makes you want to see her rise out and find peace and contentment. The writing is well crafted with subtle and powerful metaphors, like the bear cubs that are kept for amusement then freed only to freeze to death or the stirring up the ants to make them battle…
“Ruben would take a stick and stir up a pair of ants’ nests. He’d get the red ones fighting the black.”
Buffalo solider looks at the issues or war, delving into the darkest traits of human kid, and question the notion of freedom, something that most of us take for granted. It is a triumph, a truly engaging read, although recommended for Young Adult readers due to subject and historical language.
Mini Interview with Buffalo Soldier author Tanya Landman
What is your Favourite thing about your book Buffalo Solider?
What I love about Buffalo Soldier is Charley. There are some characters you don't create - it's more like they're standing at your side telling you their story. Charley is one of those. I love her strength and her humanity.