Book Review #49: White Magic by Elissa Washuta (2021)

,Rating: 3 out of 5⭐️
Title: White Magic: Essays
Author: Elissa Washuta
Published: 2021 (Tin House Books)
Pages: 432 (Hardcover)
Genres: Non-Fiction, Essays, Spiritual, Adult, Biography
CW: Rape, Abuse, Native American Traumas, Strong Language, Colonization, PTSD, Alcoholism
Link Here

My borrowed copy of White Magic against some cards/prints on my wall

Okay… Let me begin by stating that I have a lot and a little to say about this book. This week I finished reading a collection of essays by Native American writer Elissa Washuta called White Magic: Essays. I cannot remember how I came across this book or what made me want to read it. Maybe it was the description, which made it seem insightful, or maybe it was the pretty and simplistic cover design. But after completing this book, I have so many mixed feelings. I’m writing this review while re-watching Twin Peaks, a series Washuta mentions a lot in her book. Re-watching a series I also love felt appropriate to get my head into this review. Anyways, I feel the best way to approach this review after I describe the synopsis is to list out the pros and cons.

I don’t like the story I keep hearing: all these white men fracking the frontier, no wives, only work, so some of them rape. If the oil business is the problem, why did I get raped in the city? The movie kills off a villain. At the end, text on the screen tells us that in real life, Native women are missing. Wind River Reservation is real, but justice is the climax of a white fantasy. Before colonizers fracked, they raped” – Elissa Washuta, White Magic

White Magic is a collection of the author’s short stories where she describes in great detail about her tumultuous love life, her experiences with the spiritual and religion, witchery, battle with alcoholism and her experiences as a Native American person and her findings of Native history. She also goes into detail about her pop culture influences, and her thoughts on what she sees and hears in detail. White Magic felt essentially like the author’s diary, but in literature form and prose.

“In your gut, you know that your relationship is bad, as in expired, like milk. Philip’s white man face is not a mask, and he can’t see it. He doesn’t love you. He is not wicked, never abusive, never mean, so you know you must hold on to this for as long as you can, because if you lose him, the next man might kill you” – Elissa Washuta, White Magic


The content was well-spoken and poetic, Washuta has a unique voice. She also provided a lot of facts and history about Native persons that was insightful to read, especially coming from a Native perspective herself. She also provides a lot of insight into what women face, especially Native women, with PTSD and relationship abuse/rape. These subjects could be a trigger to you though, fair warning – she does go into a lot of detail. Some of the stories were relatable as well, and her telling of what a lot of women face in relationships and in life really spoke to me personally.

But where else would I live? Not my ancestral territory, where I couldn’t imagine a way to make a living. Now, I wonder whether I wasn’t taking on a share of settler guilt, willing to suffer for them – for meaning in their place, but also as in for their entertainment, because they want the suffering. Settler colonialism wants me flagellating myself, because it’s a good distraction: nobody might notice the DOJ findings that, of the Native women they surveyed who were victims of sexual violence, 96 percent were harmed by non-Native perpetrators” – Elissa Washuta, White Magic


There were some points where I could not stand the structure and style. The subject matter most of the time felt all over the place, and did not connect well at all to some things she stated in the same paragraph. I mentioned this a little before, but really this book felt like someone published the author’s diary about her daily thoughts. She also spent most of the book talking about the same ex-boyfriend on and off… which makes sense for being in a personal essay, but he was in all the essays.

What do David Lynch & your ex have in common? Neither of them owe you closure” – Elissa Washuta, White Magic

Maybe it’s my fault for approaching this book with different expectations. This was always a book of essays. But I think I expected it to be more factual about spiritual or witch practices than what it really was, the author’s collection of angst about her ex-boyfriends and the same subjects/repetitive topics mentioned in every essay. I think this book will resonate more with other persons, but it definitely did not with me. Why should you read this book? If you enjoy works of memoir/essays from Native perspectives, but also dives deep into difficult and fem-relatable subject matter, this is the book for you. To me, the author’s style felt like a more-Native Lena Dunham, which can be both a complement or not one…

I give this one a 3 out of 5! (I thought about giving it a 2-star, but there was enough I liked about it to make up for the negatives)


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