LEGENDS OF THE AMERICAN DESERT: Sojourns in the Greater Southwest by Alex Shoumatoff
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LEGENDS OF THE AMERICAN DESERT: Sojourns in the Greater Southwest

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A masterfully written study of a region that is at once familiar and utterly foreign, by a journalist who has written for the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and other magazines. Little eludes the grasp of Shoumatoff (The World Is Burning, 1990, etc.) in this roughly chronological account of the Southwest's earliest peoples, its conquest and settlement by Spain, its later flood of Anglo immigrants and its most recent incarnation as a region of water-guzzling ""urban oases."" While the history has already been told (and Shoumatoff acknowledges as much), the author here puts it into a highly vibrant context as he crisscrosses the land, pursuing its ancient and more modern history. Shoumatoff travels to the remotest precincts of northern Mexico's Sierra Madre, whose spectacular silver-veined canyons are now ruled by violent drug lords who have routinely murdered scores of uncooperative Tarahumara Indians. He jourrneys to the ruins of one of the supposed Seven Cities of Cibola in New Mexico, where the Zuni people, who wiped out a Spanish expedition over four centuries ago, still reside. With the mother of Navajo and former marine Clayton Lonetree, he visits the young man incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth. Frequent asides happily intrude throught out this sprawling volume: In no specific order, short chapters are devoted to such arcane subjcts as the history of the chile pepper; the hidden Jews of New Mexico; a stretch of Route 66. But of greatest saliency in this remarkable work, and what stitches its widely spaced locales together, is the nearly atavistic struggle among the Indian, Hispanic, and Anglo cultures for access to resources, a competition in which the latter has appropriated most of what is valuable in the Southwest, especially water, permitting the wasteful, extravagant lifestyles of metropolises such as Phoenix and Albuquerque, and the exclusive enclave of Santa Fe. Shoumatoff's book is a definitive accomplishment--an entertainingly informative read that must rank among the preeminent works on this region.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1997
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Knopf