Rich layers of shale oil are discovered under Yellow Earth, North Dakota and the neighboring Three Nations Indian reservation. All hell breaks loose.
In Yellow Earth, John Sayles introduces an epic cast of characters, weaving together narratives of competing agendas and worldviews with lyrical dexterity, insight, and wit.
When rich layers of shale oil are discovered beneath the town of Yellow Earth, all hell breaks loose. Locals, oil workers, service workers, politicians, law enforcement, and get-rich-quick opportunists—along with an earnest wildlife biologist—commingle and collide as the population of the town triples overnight. Harleigh Killdeer, chairman of the tribal business council of the neighboring Three Nations reservation, entertains visions of "sovereignty by the barrel" and joins forces with a fast-talking entrepreneur. From casino dealers to activists and high school kids, everyone in the region is swept up in the unsparing wave of an oil boom.
Sayles’s masterful storytelling draws an arc from the earliest exploitation of this land and its people all the way to twenty-first-century privatization schemes. Through the intertwining lives of its characters, Yellow Earth lays bare how the profit motive erodes human relationships, as well as our living planet. The fate of Yellow Earth serves as a parable for our times.
What People Are Saying
“Densely textured, overtly political fifth novel, the acclaimed director and screenwriter recounts what happens when shale oil is discovered beneath an Indian reservation in the North Dakota badlands and crowds of outsiders descend.” New York Times Book Review (New and Noteworthy)
"Mr. Sayles writes with such verve and colloquial humor that even the most esoteric issues brighten with fascination....Mr. Sayles superbly dramatizes the man-made disruptions in his novel’s small pond, but in a book motored by anarchy the most unsettling section occurs when the boom goes bust, bringing “Yellow Earth” to a surprisingly quiet conclusion: the depiction of a modern-day ghost town." Wall Street Journal
“Few fiction writers understand the ripple effect that big industry can have on a community with as much depth and empathy as John Sayles….His latest novel, Yellow Earth, might be his most deeply felt work yet.” The Stranger
"Incisive...." Seattle Times
“Without falling prey to false ‘both sides’ equivocation, Sayles masterfully balances and gives fair hearings to competing agendas and doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of human nature; by the same token, he doesn’t give in to cynicism or despair. What animates his fiction is curiosity about different kinds of people and their experiences, and an imagination expansive enough to portray their inner lives. He doesn’t fetishize diversity, but his stories are naturally diverse as a result of his engaged interest in the world around him. Now entering the fifth decade of his career, Sayles remains a standard-bearer for the American novel.” Slant Magazine
“Filmmaker Sayles... is also a highly imaginative short story writer with a sure ear for dialogue, a keen eye for group dynamics, a flair for quickly establishing intriguing mise-en-scènes, and the ability to animate a great spectrum of flinty characters... Sayles expresses his compassion and concern for those who struggle with poverty and prejudice, seeking both to provoke and entertain.” Booklist (Starred Review)
"Sayles’s scrawl achieves a sensational pace. It is the impressive result of a comprehensive portrayal of all four stages and an incredible amount of layering, symbolism, and ideology. There is an urgency to Yellow Earth, and Sayles wastes no words....The magic of Yellow Earth is that it doesn’t feel didactic or like an overdone parable. Rather, Sayles fills his work with contradictions. The competing perspectives and ideologies manifest through the characters’ colloquial conversations, inner dialogue, and motivations." Chicago Review of Books
"John Sayles has created a tale of people and place bewitched and bedeviled by money and power, ultimately convinced to join in the destruction of their lands and their lives. Not only is his story believable, it could easily be a work of non-fiction, so accurately does he portray the possibilities of an energy extraction project on the lives of men and women in the US heartland." Counter Punch
“John Sayles is a living master. Yellow Earth reminds me what novels are for.” Jennifer Haigh, author of Heat and Light