Gansworth takes the reader through his life, experiences, and thoughts in the memoir written in verse, Apple : Skin to the Core. He touches on innmerable aspects of his life, from the horribly embarrassing nicknames given in on the Tuscarora reservation (rez) to give you thick skin, the way in which you are treated in the rez schools, the forever consequences of the residential boarding schools. He tells the reader about injustice, prejudice and systemic racism. He talks about how improbable it was that after having being sent away (forced) to boarding school, his grandfather 1. survived and 2. preserved any of his culture. He highlights pop culture, with stories of being neighbors to the family of Tanto (actor who played alongside the Lone Ranger), the importance of the Beatles and his singular connection with David Bowie. This beautifully written melancholic memoir that tells his singular yet universal story was also longlisted for the National Book Award and .
In many ways I connect with the story of the Native community and especially assimilation. Growing up in a Mexican-American home was not the way people might expect it to be. While my mother watched telenovelas in the evenings, and cooked a few Mexican meals, assimilation was of utmost importance in our house. Our names were chosen to be very American, Spanish was not spoken in the house and we were discouraged from being out in the sun so we didn’t get darker. My parents were discriminated against when they were growing up – they were hit or beaten when they spoke Spanish at school and thus, in some ways, they abandoned their heritage to assimilate to the dominant, and I believe in their eyes, better culture. Gansworth expertly starts his memoir with what was done to his grandfather in the residential school. Traditional clothes, language, customs and more were stripped away. These unique aspects of culture, once gone, are gone forever.
Until this point, I have only read a handful of books with a Native protagonist and no memoirs. Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian exposed me life on the reservation (rez life) in addition to straddling two different cultures- one’s Native culture and traditional “American” culture. There There showcases the lives of 13 different Natives and it set in Oakland, California, highlighting the reality of urban natives that do not live on reservations, but in major cities. Apple : Skin to the core, is the most dense of Native works I have read. Gansworth tells his story and shares the most personal of details. I know about aspect such as poverty, alcoholism and the constant battle for remembering ones culture is high in the Native community. In Canada, there has been the horrific unearthing of hundreds of unmarked graves. What I appreciated about this book, and what I learned was the multitude of other details. In one poem, aptly named, “Naming Ceremony,” Gansworth describes the horror yet purpose and value of being given a nickname that is cruel and harsh:
“When you live with a nickname, you are more prepared for whatever…And
when you are frustrated…you remember,
6. …They have their own wounds that won’t heal
into scabs and then scars, but because they, like you, are grandchildren
of Boarding School survivors, they know you need to be tough and sensi-
tive. They know you can’t let the calluses get so deadened to feeling that
you forget how close you were to disappearing altogether. (p. 22)
As an adult, I have worked hard to make myself knowledge about horrors of the past – whether the genocide of the Natives (literal and cultural). But this memoir made me want to take action, make me do something. There was nothing I could latch onto. Even as the memoir came to an end, with the tragic yet realistic realization that more memories, language and culture will die as generations pass, I felt helpless.
Overall, I am very glad I read this book. It gave me more perspective on the experiences of people not too much older than me. There are no illusions with this book, Apple : Skin to the core, is not a comedy, not a so-called summer read, or a romance. It is a memoir. It is honest, painful and stark, but so is the history of Natives in this country. Here is an example from the first few pages of the book:
Boarding School Philosophy, Short, Simplified Edition: Practical Application
Problem: Indians in communities will reproduce
in both form and idea. If offspring cannot be stoped, disrupt culture.
Solution 1: Kill them all, or remove all available food sources.
Solution 2: Destabilize group identity byu making group land base illegal….
Solution 4: Remove present juvenile offspring, incarcerate them long enough
to open possibilities for future manual labor resources. To minimize
bloodshed, call incarceration instituion a “school,” convince
parents this is an Oportunity of a Lifetime for juvenile offspring. (Gansworth, p. 5).
Yet, there is much to take away. I am interested in Eric Gansworth and would read more books by him. I would recommend this text to more advanced young adults. If someone has read any of Sherman Alexie’s and enjoyed it, and enjoyed non-fiction, I would recommend this book. It would also make a great addition or resource to a history project about the history of Natives. Lastly, with so much infusion of pop culture, with numerous references to bands, especially David Bowie and the Beatles, this work could be recommended to someone who enjoys those musicians, or perhaps someone doing a project on the effects of popular music on culture.
In Apple : Skin to the core, Gansworth takes the reader through his life as a Native. It is harrowing, melancholy and sad. It includes the story of the impossibility of Eric being born thanks to his grandfather surviving the boarding school. He talks about the complete poverty that he grew up in, but also writes in much detail about pop culture, ranging from The Beatles, to David Bowie to Kiss. It is a book that gives the reader an intimate, if not somber insight into the life of a Native who grew up on a reservation and understands the frailty and vulnerability his culture. I recommend this book to any library that serves high school students and older.
Gansworth, E. (2020). Apple : Skin to the core. Levine Querido