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Beneath a Navajo Moon - Lisa Cox Carter

I got this on my Nook as a free Friday (one of the perks of having a Nook is this feature) and was really excited to read this as it featured cultural anthropology, a sub-branch of my major of anthropology, even though I am starting my specialization in archaeology, because the Navajo people are a fascinating culture. Unfortunately I didn't know what I was in for. Several aspects were so cloying that I didn't make it past fifty pages in.

 

First off, this book was billed on the Nook blog as a thriller and mystery; it's actually a Christian romance. I kind of realized it could be when I read the dedication, where the author expresses the wish that all of her readers find Jesus, but I also know that an author can easily write a book where religion is not in the forefront of the story and still be religious, so I ignored it. As I mentioned before, religion is largely at the forefront of the book, and I was surprised at it. Unfortunately, by adding the religion, among other things, it really showed that the author didn't do much research into what a cultural anthropologist actually does. I will explain these proofs in the following paragraphs.

 

First, the main character is searching for a teacher at one of the mission schools for her dissertation. While this is well within the umbrella of anthropology, it is not something a cultural anthropologist would be studying. Cultural anthropologists study people who are still alive; in all likelihood, this would be something studied by an archaeologist. It would have been a very interesting story if she were studying something like how religion has affected the Navajo culture, although maybe not as attractive as digging through old books and looking for historical records of what happened the day the teacher went missing to the public (yes, I know my bias is showing).

 

Second, the main character volunteers at the local church. While this would be a great way to gain the trust of the people, the main character did mention that she would also be worshiping there, which would have been a big no-no. The phrase "you don't shit where you eat" distinctively comes to mind. It makes for the potential contamination of a study. It would have been fine for her to have participated in community events within the church, but would have been better if she worshiped in private. Even better, it would have been more interesting if she were not religious and experienced something that made her temporarily believe in a unique variation of the Navajo religion based on her experience, as this is a phenomenon that can happen to cultural anthropologists.

 

Third, the lack of cultural relativism is astonishing. Cultural relativism, the act of realizing that not everyone thinks the same way you do and being okay with it, is the most important and most difficult aspect of being a cultural anthropologist. It would be impossible to write about a cultural anthropologist and fail to write about cultural relativism; unfortunately, somehow the author does it. The main character is very zealous and actively looks down her nose at characters in the book who are not religious or who retain some of the Navajo religion. It would have been far more interesting to have seen the main character struggle to remain impartial, as this happens, especially as the culture differs from the anthropologist's own culture.

 

Fourth, there were signs of possible favoritism among the Navajos she interacted with, which is one of the huger no-nos you can commit. This can be buying a new car for one individual or it can be showing romantic interest. Considering I can see how this story will likely end (anthropologist converts unbelieving Navajo cop to Christianity and they live happily ever after), it definitely smacks of favoritism. It can be outright dangerous to have this type of favoritism, as it can ruin any camaraderie established initially if the object of the anthropologist's affection is ostracized in any capacity. As it appears this cop is a nonbeliever in a largely Christian community of Navajos, it is very likely that there would be some controversy among the Navajo if an anthropologist was pursuing a romantic interest with him.

 

Fifth, the exotification of the cop was a bit disturbing. The main character's parents were missionaries in Papua New Guinea, and she's writing her dissertation, so she would likely know better than to describe the cop's skin tone and physical features of the cop in such a fashion. I'm not saying that she would overlook his ethnicity entirely, but she would more than likely mention something about the fact that maybe she was working with mostly older members of the tribe and she had never seen a younger adult, or she may have just left it at her finding him handsome were this well-researched.

 

Finally, if this were her first time studying among the people she was planning on doing her dissertation on, she would likely have had her graduate adviser there to make sure none of this happened. If he wasn't with her, he or she would have been in regular contact with her to make sure this type of thing did not happen.

 

Perhaps this would be an okay book if I were not an anthropology major and if I were a Christian, but this book simply did not work for me. If you're studying or have studied anthropology, read at your own risk, otherwise you might actually enjoy it.