This book was a reread for me, a reread thirty years in the making. There are times when I reread the books I had loved as a child, that I find them mediocre at best. To put it simply, not many books stand the test of time, and the mind had since moved on to more challenging things to entertain it. However, this is not the case with Winnetou and Karl May's writing.
I fondly recall the innocent years when I devoured his books lusting after the wide world and all it has to offer. Karl May took me not only to the wild American West, he also took me on adventures in the Middle East and beyond. Through the main protagonist in many of his novel, a German adventurer, "Charlie", I learned of good men and bad men, of honor and betrayal, of right and wrong.
So when I found a recent translation at a local store, I purchased the first book that made Karl May a household name in Europe - Winnetou. With inevitable reservations, I pulled the cover off and cracked the spine. It turns out that I did not have to worry about being disappointed.
The writing is on the lighter side compared to most of what I read nowadays, nevertheless, the storyline is just as engaging as it was when I read it all those years ago.
The reader is immediately introduced to Charlie, a German immigrant who came to the US to work as a private tutor for a wealthy German family. Charlie is bright, educated, naturally inquisitive, and all around handy. He has had a foundation in sports, knows how to shoot well, and is determined to the point of being stubborn. When Charlie befriends an older gentleman named Henry (the rifle maker), Charlie's life is about to change.
Mr. Henry helps him get a job with a surveying company to explore the course of a railroad through the Apache territory. Charlie had never been 'out West' but he read a lot about it, so he is naturally eager to go.
Through a series of events, Charlie proves himself as a natural westerner, earns the nickname Old Shatterhand (through his ability to knock out an opponent with a well placed fist at the opponents temple), fights a grizzly bear with a knife, survives several ambushes (some from whites and some from Indians), becomes a blood brother with a Mescalero Apache, and an enemy of the Kiowas.
This book is packed with adventure, and while some of the abilities and events come across as exaggerated, this book is a lot more than that. It is a story of an unlikely friendship when two worlds collided. It is a story of the atrocities white settlers committed against Native Americans, a story of greed.
While Karl May wrote his 'western' books without having set foot in America, he was an advocate for the Native American tribes and their cultures. He wrote about mistreatment, about land theft, about reservations, about government lies. He wrote about tribes being pushed from their traditional lands into small reservations where they had to fight against each other for hunting grounds; about a lot of the evil things white men did in order to grab land and gold.
All in all, this was a very enjoyable read full of little lessons in decency, in honor, and in right and wrong. The most enjoyable part - seeing the wonder in my daughter's eyes as I read it aloud to her (the same wonder I must have had all those years ago), and our subsequent discussions about the story, humanity, and history.