You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

My Photo
Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Thirteen Moons

Charles Frazier's Thirteen Moons is a novel about the fictional life of Will Cooper, a man whose life encompasses much of the 19th century in and around the Cherokee Nation in the southern Appalachian mountains. Will is and orphan sent to be a servant to a merchant and has to watch over a modest trading post. On the way he encounters Featherstone, a violent Indian who deals with stolen horses and gambling and runs a plantation. At the outpost Will meets Bear, a quiet older Indian man who takes him under his wing.

Things go well for Will when he buys out his contract his trading post and another. He learns Cherokee and studies the law. He meets Claire, a young girl who lives with Featherstone, and they fall in love. Eventually he discovers that Claire is not Featherstone's daughter but his wife, and they have a falling out, including a duel.

Will uses his legal skills to assist Bear's people resist the Removal, when the U.S. government forced the Indians off their land and to the West. He buys up a lot of land inside and outside the Nation's boundaries, taking advantage of loans and every legal loophole he can imagine. He goes to Washington and meets President Jackson. He becomes a leader among the Indians, and eventually a state senator. He travels to the West and finds Claire, but is disappointed when he discovers she has had a child with Featherstone, so he returns home.

During the Civil War, he and a bunch of Indians form a regiment and camp out in the mountains but don't do much fighting. When the war is over they return home, Bear soon dies, and Will's construct soon falls apart. The bills come due and the debtors demand to be paid. Much of his land, held in trust for Bear's people, is sold. He survives to witness many of his friends pass away, always pining for Claire and never being fulfilled.

This is a great book, much better than the sum of its parts. Will Cooper is a strong character, though he has his flaws. His two father figures are Bear and Featherstone, and they are very different. Bear is gentle and caring, and he clings to the old ways. Featherstone is rough and demanding; his people are afraid of him. Will admits that "I'm sure it is one of my greatest failures in life that, of my two flawed fathers, I more closely mirror Featherstone's example." I think Will was basically truthful, but a little hard on himself. In his care of Bear and Bear's people, he showed a generosity that was beyond anything Featherstone could display.

Will is well-read and literary. The language of his narration reflects his wide reading, including the classics and contemporary writers such as Byron. He is a poet and a lover. He is forced to do unpleasant things, as when the officer in charge of the Removal forces him to assist them retrieving some runaway Indians. This was an incident emblematic of his character and the way he was torn between two worlds. As a white man adopted by Indians, he often had to make hard choices between bad options.

The mountains have a character all their own. They are home to Will and Bear and Claire and all their people. The whole setting comes alive, even though most of the actual places are imaginary. I also found the theme of Indian conflict to be moving. To see the removal of Indians from their homes dramatized is a memorable experience. It's not something you usually hear about when learning American history.

The central conflicts of the story are Will's love for Claire and the impediment of Featherstone; Bear's complex and sometimes rocky relationship with the Indians and the outsiders; and the Indians' struggle to keep their ways and lands against the tide of American progress. They are all doomed to failure in different ways. With these compelling themes and the evocative, lyrical language, the book is at the top of my list for the year. It's a very memorable A.


Post a Comment

<< Home