Monday, November 12, 2007

Thirteen Moons

I put this book down several times, reading it in fits and starts, but it ultimately grabbed my attention and led me into a different world. I loved Cold Mountain for its nineteenth-century rhythm and patient storytelling, and this second novel by Charles Frazier has the same incantatory feel and attention to detail. This time around, the love story is unbalanced, intentionally so, toward the male point of view. The narrator, Will Cooper, is an adopted Indian, a "bound boy" who finds his identity among the Cherokee clan run by his eventual adopted father, Bear. The love story is a deep, patient one similar to Cold Mountain in that it is a lifelong love, but the circumstances that separate man and woman differ from the previous novel -- Will falls in love with a married woman, not knowing she is married. Will does continue his love affair even after he finds out, but the transgression seems slight in Will's estimation. Claire is an enigmatic part of Will's life, more absent than present in Will's long life line. At the turning point in the novel, Will finds himself squarely in the center of the struggle for his Cherokee clan to remain in western Tennessee mountains, rather than be forcibly removed to Western territories (Oklahoma, I think). The decision Will makes to try to maintain an Indian home in the midst of major historical change separates him from his love. The central struggle of the novel is between this homeland and the forces of change, whether that be white settlers, the government, internal struggles, war, or even technology, which shows up at the very end in the form of the daguerrotype, the locomotive, and the automobile. Charles Frazier imagines this homeland -- it is not a real place -- but it feels authentic and important, and the history Frazier tells through his fiction is more true than the history in textbooks.
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