MOHAWK WOMAN by Barbara Riefe


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Another entry in the proliferating Beads and Buckskin historical subgenre, a category in which characters are often as rigidly stylized as the figures painted on the walls of an Egyptian tomb. In this third in Riefe's Iroquois series (The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, 1994, etc.), such distortions of characterization overshadow, rather than illuminate, scenes that might otherwise be painfully--and accurately--evocative of the Mohawk culture during Queen Anne's War. Sky Toucher and Singing Brook want to marry for love, an anomaly in a culture that Riefe says views that emotion as a ""whiteskin"" weakness and even lacks a word for it. But this promising subplot of cultural conflict abruptly ends when the accidental death of Singing Brook's brother, during a fight with Sky Toucher, eliminates both the primary opposition to the marriage and a potentially interesting antagonist. The author introduces another conflict into the couple's relationship when Sky Toucher volunteers to act as a scout for English Colonel Douglas Dorr. Distrusting the English, Singing Brook opposes her now-husband's decision and accuses him of denying her the right to express an opinion. Thus the intertwined themes of white dominance and Mohawk sovereignty are reduced to the level of a domestic quarrel over equality whose arguments evoke images of failed 20th-century marital-encounter groups. This grafting of modern values onto early 18th-century Mohawk culture weakens the novel's sense of time and place despite some fine scenes describing games, weapon-making, and medical practices. Even Singing Brook's rescue of Sky Toucher after his capture by the French seems motivated as much by her need to validate her side in the quarrel as by her love. Two-dimensional characters, along with platitudes expressed in stilted dialogue: subject matter that could have sung, but that stumbles in a talking monotone instead.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Forge/Tot