REINDEER MOON by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas


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A plunge into the cosmos of a paleolithic hunter-gatherer group: an unusual first novel from the author of the anthropological The Harmless People (1959) and Warrior Herdsmen (1965). The setting: Siberia, 20,000 year ago. Preteen Yanan, the narrator, faces an unpleasant death when both her parents die just as winter's approaching. She leads her baby sister Meri into an abandoned lodge, where a mother wolf adopts them and feeds them until spring. Yanan then rejoins her relatives, who've taken some strange-talking mammoth hunters into their lodge. With time, Yanan menstruates, is initiated, and discovers sex with her handsome husband Timu. She also distinguishes herself as a hunter (finding food is the group's major preoccupation, whether they're tracking a reindeer, slaughtering a bear hibernating in it's den, or gathering pinenuts), but alienates the elders by her rejection of the marriage they've arranged between Meri and one of the repulsive mammoth hunters. She flees the lodge, briefly joins another settlement, then comes back pregnant. Vicious chat causes Timu to doubt that he's the father. Yanan dies--lonely but determined--in childbirth, but a shaman snares her spirit and keeps her as a servant. In this capacity, she takes on the form of several animals--a wolf drunk on the rich smells of the land; a lumbering and gentle mammoth; a lion who adopts a cub--until she's finally dismissed and allowed to join her mother in the ancestral reunion grounds, where a backlog of generations gathers to tell tales and to spear the sun each night and feast on its fatty innards. Echoes of the superwoman-of-the-Ice-Age blockbusters, The Clan of the Cave Bear and sequels, with a more lyrical, less species-shaping focus. Yanan's storytelling is simple, relentlessly unsentimental, but with an incantatory edge. Winning magic.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin