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The Removed by Brandon Hobson

Grief has a way of laying you out. When the feelings of loss and sadness flood in, life can seem unbearable. It is difficult and unimaginable to lose a family member at a young age, or even before they have been able to experience all their hopes and dreams in the world. Brandon Hobson’s luminous novel, The Removed, is the story of one family’s personal loss and the challenges they wrestle with in the wake of such tragedy. Like the characters in the story, I recognized all too familiarly their pain and the loss of losing a family member ripped away in their prime. The grief that still settles in at times, even years after your family member has passed away, is all too relatable.



The Removed is an unforgettable story linking Cherokee history—one marked by trauma, violence, and forced migration—with the generational trauma experienced by a family who has suffered an unbearable loss. The intertwining of Cherokee ancestral past with broken family members in the present offers the reader a unique angle of understanding. Reflecting on the role of Cherokee spirituality, the author eloquently writes,


“Look to the sky, and there we are soaring like hawks, . . . we are a sparkle of blue light inside rocks, . . We are speakers of the dead, the drifters, messengers, . . . We reveal ourselves to those who will look . . .We are always restless, carrying the dreams of children and the elderly, the tired and sick, the poor, the wounded. The removed.”

The characters in The Removed all bear wounds borne from the loss of their family member. Set in Quah, Oklahoma, the Echota family led by Alzheimer-ridden patriarch, Ernest, and his depressed wife Maria, are just on the cusp of the fifteen-year anniversary of their son Ray-Ray’s death, a life lost in a police shooting. Maria, the glue of the family, is planning the anniversary bonfire for Ray-Ray, an event held every year since the tenth anniversary of his death. Meanwhile, her husband recedes into the background when his Alzheimer’s begins to worsen. Sonja, their 31-year old daughter, who resides just down the road from her parents, plays an ongoing loop of loveless encounters with men. Twenty-one year old Edgar, the youngest of the Echota clan lives on the edge, with a brutal addiction to crystal meth and a strung-out existence in Albuquerque. Each of the family members struggles with the loss of their son and brother, Ray-Ray.


Hobson interweaves Cherokee folklore into this uncanny story of loss and resilience. For that matter, the members of the Echota family—coincidentally the same family name used in the contested Cherokee treaty in 1835 (Treaty of New Echota) that led to the demise of Cherokee people and brought about the infamous Trail of Tears—are well versed in Cherokee cultural history. They reside in Oklahoma as descendants of the forcible migration of their people predominantly from Georgia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. Thus, it is the spirit presence of the ancestors who involuntarily migrated along the Trail of Tears who lift up the Echota family.


While contemporary interactions of the Echota clan are rife with melancholy, the story reaches deeper into psychic trauma in unspooling an additional historic narrative of Tsala, a Cherokee leader who endured far-reaching trauma in the 1830s during the Trail of Tears. Tsala serves as connective tissue between the original Cherokee origin story and the Echota family. There has been horrific trauma endured on the Trail of Tears as countless Cherokee men, women, and children suffered brutalities exerted by the military soldiers moving them westward in the throes of a harsh winter. Generational trauma leaks into the lives of the Echotas, notably in Edgar’s addiction. Hobson shrewdly pinpoints cyclical violence and trauma in this searing story.


Cherokee ancestors guide the Echota family through their grief. Maria is burdened by Ernest’s worsening health and also tries earnestly to remain emotionally stable given her own grief. A happenstance request to temporarily foster Wyatt, a Cherokee teenager, puts Ernest on the road to recovery. The boy reminds the couple of Ray-Ray and lifts Ernest’s mental haze. As days pass, it seems that Ernest is recovering his memory and intellectual well-being. Ernest is convinced that Wyatt is imbued with Ray-Ray’s spirit and by the end so, too, is Maria as she scrawls in her journal: “Ray-Ray’s spirit channeled Wyatt. I can barely breathe thinking about it.”


Sonja manifests her own grief in a series of poor choices with her love life. One love interest, Vin, has a secret of his own that unspools toward the ending of the book. It is Vin’s son Luka who Sonja becomes deeply connected to. He is an old soul enthused by quirky interests and shunning sports and the masculinity with which his father is imbued.


Though the youngest family member when Ray-Ray was killed by a police officer, Edgar’s pain is immensely palpable: he moved to Albuquerque following his girlfriend who has begun art school there and secretly ramped up his addiction to methamphetamine and Oxycontin. His girlfriend’s growing dissatisfaction with his drug use leads Edgar to visit a lonely motel where he overdoses on Oxy.


Edgar begins a harrowing journey to the Darkening Land, a psychic location where souls go before they reach their final resting place. The Darkening Land is full of mottled, dank houses, desiccated landscape, and iniquitous men and women such as old school friend, Jackson. Through a series of underhanded gestures, Jackson proves to be like a wolf in sheep’s clothing convincing Edgar to help him develop a new video game using Echota as the likeness of Jim Thorpe. The dark humor and uncanny wit astounds as Edgar recollects of Jackson, “I always thought he was criminally insane, but others called him genius.” The double entendre is not to be missed: Edgar’s encounters at the Darkening Land also wryly reflect an updated version of historic Native depredations.


The book is brimming with social commentary. Tsala connects past to present in powerful ways through both his personal history of removal (forcible migration to the Oklahoma Territory) and in the morality tales he conveys. Edgar’s experiences in the Darkening Land itself is a commentary on the exploitation and attempted extermination of Native peoples, in this case of the Cherokee. And foremost, is the Cherokee belief in animism. Each of the Echotas comes face-to-face with spiritual messengers aimed at carrying their sadness and assuaging their grief. Full disclosure: I don’t really cry when reading books very often but this one had me in tears by the final chapters. Yes, I was perhaps also thinking about my sister who passed away four years ago in her prime of her life at age 50. But, it was undoubtedly the craft of this astounding story that got me there.


Despite the dark themes, the book ends on a hopeful note. When the Echota family finally gather to honor the fifteenth anniversary of Ray-Ray’s death, they are surrounded by Spirit:


“We heard the creaking of oaks, the rustle of trees shaken alive by a gust of wind. We heard the incessant voices all around us, the voice of our people, our ancestors. . . “

The Removed

By Brandon Hobson

288 pages. 2021.


Buy it now from our Bookshops in the US and UK.

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