Apple (Skin to the Core) by Eric Gansworth is an important and necessary read. Chronicling Eric’s coming of age as an Onondaga among Tuscaroras, as well as the terrible trauma faced by his Native relatives, this book is raw and beautiful — hard to swallow at times but harder still to forget.
You might have seen this book on a few “Best of” lists throughout the year and it certainly earns it. Eric’s verse is deeply affecting, punching a reader multiple times so that every poem leaves you gasping for air. The artwork that accompanies is perfectly complementary, showcasing illustrations of rare family photos passed around throughout Eric’s family as Beatles album covers.
I’m in awe of the way that Eric Gansworth writes. The way he discusses trauma, heartbreak, and memory is stunning. His word choice takes us there, in each of his memories. Though we don’t have the same experience as him, he creates that understanding of what his journey has been like.
“Apple” is a slur to a Native American, meaning “red on the outside, white on the inside.” This outsider mentality exists throughout the book, as Eric deals with being Onondaga on the Tuscaroras reservation. In school, after he ages out of the reservation school he is also treated as an outsider. And this trauma exists back to the boarding schools his relatives went to — when Native children were taken across the country to be “assimilated.” In reality, this was an attempt by the government to get rid of Native culture. Many children died or were unable to find their way back home. It’s horrible and unimaginable. I don’t remember learning about this in school. I wish we had but I’m glad my eyes were opened to this horrible act of abuse now. It’s moments like this, that solidify why this book is a must read. For its history, for its masterclass on memoir and wonderful writing.
There’s no racing through this volume. Each poem is a gift and one that’s meant to be savored, not rushed. Gansworth paints us a picture of the house on the reservation, his hardworking mother, of his childhood admiration of Batman, and of his absent father. Though these memories must not have been easy to relive, I admire him for telling them because if he doesn’t remember the ethnographer, the boarding schools, Dog Street, who will? Or at the least, who will be able to tell it in such an affecting, beautiful way?
This book is an enlightening read. Its not an easy read but it is a must read. I urge you to pick up Apple (Skin to the Core) if you haven’t already.