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The Removed


The Removed

In 2018, Brandon Hobson wrote about the notebook that his grandfather was holding when he died. Within it were Cherokee myths, as well as family stories centering on an ancestor named Tsala. Tsala hid in a cave as the majority of his people were made to march the Trail of Tears, a series of horrific, forced migrations of indigenous people by the US government in the mid-1800s. Tsala was found, he and his son were murdered, and then he walked in the spirit world. This story --- familial, mythological yet real --- is the seed at the center of Hobson’s latest novel, THE REMOVED. It follows three members of the Echota family, as well as their ancestor Tsala, in the days leading up to a memorial bonfire.

Fifteen years ago, Maria and Ernest’s teenaged son, Ray-Ray, was shot to death by a police officer. He had not been committing a crime, but the officer saw a young man of color and made a fatal decision. This devastating loss continues to reverberate in the family. Maria and her children, Sonja and Edgar, each mourn and remember in their own way, even as they struggle with Ernest’s Alzheimer’s. Retired from her career in social work, Maria finds herself caring for her husband and worried about his decline.

"Though rooted in --- and inseparable from --- the Cherokee culture, the book is also a complex, inventive and thoughtfully universal tale of love and longing."

The arrival --- for just a few days during the week leading up to the family’s annual bonfire ritual for Ray-Ray --- of a foster child named Wyatt shakes loose something in Ernest. Wyatt’s mannerisms and presence resemble Ray-Ray’s so much that Ernest comes to believe that he is the spirit of his dead son. Maria is excited for the change in him and grows quickly attached to Wyatt, even as she becomes increasingly concerned about Edgar, who is living in Albuquerque and losing a battle against his meth addiction.

After swallowing a handful of pills alone in a motel room, Edgar takes a train to The Darkening Land. In this strange town of fog and confusion, he moves in with Jackson Andrews, who wants him to be the model for a Jim Thorpe video game. It takes Edgar much longer than the reader to understand what The Darkening Land is and what is being demanded of him there.

Meanwhile, Sonja begins an affair with a young man named Vin, who she has stalked for weeks. Even after she becomes disgusted with him, she continues to see him. When Hobson reveals his connection to the family, the extent of her suffering becomes even more acute.

As the days move toward Ray-Ray’s bonfire, the family’s trauma comes into sharp relief. The narrative moves between Maria, Sonja, Edgar and Tsala. Tsala’s tale is that of the genocidal actions against the Cherokees, as well as a view into Cherokee history and belief. Aspects of his story --- violence, nature, family, grief and wonder --- are mirrored in that of his descendants.

THE REMOVED explores the harm and danger of past and ongoing trauma, as well as the magic and possibility of a shared cultural perspective. Hobson deftly weaves the spirit world through the fabric of the lives in the novel, creating an elegant tension and highlighting both the sorrow of the Echota family and the beauty of their culture. Though rooted in --- and inseparable from --- the Cherokee culture, the book is also a complex, inventive and thoughtfully universal tale of love and longing.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on February 19, 2021

The Removed
by Brandon Hobson

  • Publication Date: October 5, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 0062997556
  • ISBN-13: 9780062997555