The full title of W. Michael Farmer’s novel, The Iliad of Geronimo, A Song of Blood and Fire, tells us not only the subject but also the substance of the story. The poetic ring of the subtitle reflects the author’s premise that the events of Geronimo’s life in the ten years prior to his surrender to General Nelson Miles echo the themes of Homer’s Iliad.
They are both definitely stories of blood and of fire in the bones, as well as loyalty, betrayal, frustration, and triumph. My initial reaction to this premise is that the echoes didn’t run very deep. It seemed to me that the Trojans and Greeks of Homer’s epic were more culturally similar than were the Apaches and the Americans and Mexicans they fought. But as I reflected on the two tales, I began to realize that they actually are very alike. In both stories, the two sides cling to their deep antipathy toward the other and rarely acknowledge the pain their enemy has experienced. They also exhibit knee jerk suspicions of each others’ motivations and a deep unwillingness to see their opponents as individuals. In addition, in-fighting among their own subgroups weakens the group’s likelihood of success.
There are also differences between the two sagas. For example, unlike the Greeks and Trojans, the Apache way of life was based on raiding, a concept that looked remarkably like stealing to the Americans and Mexicans, regardless of the fact that they themselves had stolen the Apache homeland. The dissimilarity in perspective is perhaps best illustrated by an incident toward the end of The Iliad of Geronimo. When Geronimo and his band delay their final return from Mexico in order to “collect” a herd of cattle with which to begin their new life on the reservation, the Americans make them give the animals back. Geronimo is furious. It looks to him like the U.S. Army is once again setting the Apache up to live in poverty and subjection. He went to a lot of work to get that herd!
The way Farmer tells this and other events from the ten years covered by this book brings Geronimo vividly to life and helps us see him as a human being who grew up with one set of rules only to have them whipped out from beneath him and replaced with another before he had time to adjust.
I recommend this book. If you’ve already read W. Michael Farmer’s The Odyssey of Geronimo, this novel will help you appreciate the events of that story more fully. If you haven’t read The Odyssey, I recommend you acquire both books and start with this one. The Iliad will show you Geronimo slowly coming to grips with the fact that new rules now apply, whether he wants them to or not. The Odyssey will show you how well he ended up adapting to and using them for his own purposes.
Whether you choose to read the books in sequence or want to plunge right into this one, I heartily recommend The Iliad of Geronimo, A Song of Blood and Fire.