Little Big Man, Paperback
4 out of 5 (1 rating)


'I am a white man and never forget it, but I was brought up by the Cheyenne Indians from the age of ten.' So starts the story of Jack Crabb, the 111-year old narrator of Thomas Berger's masterpiece of American fiction.

As a "human being", as the Cheyenne called their own, he won the name Little Big Man.

He dressed in skins, feasted on dog, loved four wives and saw his people butchered by the horse soldiers of General Custer, the man he had sworn to kill.

As a white man, Crabb hunted buffalo, tangled with Wyatt Earp, cheated Wild Bill Hickok and survived the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Part-farcical, part-historical, the picaresque adventures of this witty, wily mythomaniac claimed the Wild West as the stuff of serious literature.




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I approached <i>Little Big Man</i> from a novel direction (forgive the pun): I'd seen the movie before reading the book. In fact, I owned the <b>DVD</b> before reading the book. The movie is one of my favorites, you see.<br/><br/>I imagine that had to influence how I read the book. But not too much, I think; in fact, I found myself thinking of Mark Twain far more often than the movie. Berger's style in <i>Little Big Man</i> is <b>very</b> reminiscent of Twain's (somewhat modernized of course). That's appropriate, since the book purports to be the personal reminiscences of a man who lived at approximately the same time as Twain.<br/><br/>It's rather a <i>gory</i> book, particularly at the beginning. It's also <b>extremely</b> funny. I was surprised, a number of times, to find myself laughing out loud. The adventures of Jack Crabb, a boy adopted by a Cheyenne family who never manages to be all white or all Indian, makes for very funny reading.<br/><br/>I find myself wondering if I should compare the book to the movie. In the past I've criticised movies for being unfaithful to the original novel, but obviously I can't criticize the novel for being unfaithful to the <i>movie</i>. The novel came first, after all!<br/><br/>That said, I'll simply say that while much of the flavor of the novel was preserved in the movie, the two diverge in some critical ways. The movie is far more negative about Custer, for example, and makes Jack Crabb a far more active character (in some ways) than he is in the novel. Some events were invented for the movie, and others were rearranged chronologically. And Chief Dan George's portrayal of Old Lodge Skins was simply <i>outstanding</i>.<br/><br/>But to sum up the novel: It's long, funny, well-written, but somehow a little unfocused. I'll certainly read it again, and will be on the lookout for more by Berger. Perhaps, in time, the novel of <i>Little Big Man</i> will be as much a favorite of mine as the movie is.