In The Island of the White Cow (1985), Tall recorded her five-year stay on an island off the coast of Ireland. Here, less successfully, she tells of her ten years in the Finger Lakes area of New York State. Tall came to the region as an academic, with no roots there and no reason for the move beyond the vagaries of employment. Her experience in Ireland gave her a sense of a community linked to the soil, to centuries-old traditions from before recorded history. But in Geneva, New York, she found herself a stranger in a land that had been stolen from its earliest inhabitants and then systematically mistreated by later residents. The author's attempt to re-create a sense of the territory takes her into its history as a breeding ground for religion (Joseph Smith laid the foundations of Mormonism here); the complicated jockeying among colonial governments for rights to its land; its placement along the most-traveled routes for settlers heading west; its deep resonance in the traditions of its Native American inhabitants, especially the tribes of the Iroquois League; and even the recent history of its well-known Taylor wineries. But, unfortunately, Tall seems more interested in making historical allusions and cultural comparisons to societies from all over the globe than in focusing on the specific place and its inhabitants: There are few contemporary character portraits in these pages. When the author discusses modern times, she's usually content with superficial (if well-deserved) criticism of the rootlessness and spiritual poverty of our society. Compellingly written and deeply felt, but overly abstract and offering little real sense of the region or its people today.
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