THE NEW WORLD by Andrew Motion


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Motion, the distinguished British man of letters, has retained the two principals of Silver (2012), his robust sequel to Stevenson’s Treasure Island, but otherwise, this is a stand-alone frontier novel.

Those principals are young Jim Hawkins, same-named son of Stevenson’s cabin boy, and Natty Silver, the biracial tomboy daughter of rascally Long John and his Caribbean wife. Shipwrecked off Texas in 1802, the only survivors, they are captured by Native Americans (Red Indian “savages,” thinks narrator Jim), escorted through the wilderness to their settlement, and imprisoned. The fearsome chief, Black Cloud, sports a magnificent silver necklace, a power source, which Jim will steal after a surprisingly easy escape. His theft sets in motion a dilatory yearslong pursuit by the chief, the only throughline the novel offers. Jim and Natty ride away on stolen ponies. Though he has declared his love for her, he doesn’t act on it. At key moments it's Natty who's the decision-maker, leaving Jim a blank slate recording their impressions. “They made a very pretty picture,” concludes Jim, after they meet a much different, peace-loving tribe, and indeed Motion, a former poet laureate, provides many pretty pictures. Action is harder to come by. The English adventurers spend an idyllic two years with these friendly Indians, who offer sanctuary until Black Cloud reappears. They then throw in with some traveling entertainers, but their gig is interrupted by the chief, who is wounded but not by Jim; this further undercuts his position. More travel gets them to the climax in New Orleans. Jim has learned that Indians vary greatly, from fierce to friendly to destitute, but has he learned much about himself? To the recurring question of why he must keep that troublesome necklace, he can only answer “We’re like our fathers,” to which Natty assents.

More of a rough approximation than an imaginative penetration of the period.

Pub Date: July 14th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-8041-3845-1
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2015


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