He was born into a storied but impoverished family on the reservation of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Leonard Carson Lambert Jr.’s candid memoir is a remarkable story and an equally remarkable flouting of the stereotypes that so many tales of American Indian life have engendered.
Up from These Hills provides a grounded, yet poignant, description of what it was like to grow up during the 1930s and 1940s in the mountains of western North Carolina and on a sharecropper’s farm in eastern Tennessee. Lambert straightforwardly describes his independent, hardworking, and stubborn parents; his colorful extended family; his eighth-grade teacher, who recognized his potential and first planted the idea that he might attend college; as well as siblings, schoolmates, and others who shaped his life. He paints a vivid picture of life on the reservation and off, documenting work, family life, education, religion, and more.
Up from These Hills also tells the true story of how this family rose from Depression-era poverty, a story rarely told about Indian families. With its utterly unique voice, this vivid memoir evokes an unknown yet important part of the American experience, even as it reveals the realities behind Indian experience and rural poverty in the first half of the twentieth century.
This book review originally ran on the Native American Encyclopedia site on February 10. It is reposted here with permission.