THE CHILDREN OF FIRST MAN by James Alexander Thom

THE CHILDREN OF FIRST MAN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Thom's sweeping, ambitious historical novel describes the origins and journey of a lost white Indian tribe. Disillusioned with a homeland torn apart by familial power struggles, the Welsh prince Madoc, a blond giant, sets out with a fleet of ships in 1169 to start a colony across the ocean in the new land he calls Iarghal. Upon arrival, the Welsh settlers begin to interbreed with the native peoples while subjugating them. Generations later, neighboring Indian tribes band together and revolt against Welsh injustices. Only a few natives of mixed heritage escape the ensuing slaughter; they go on to found the Mandan nation, a tribe living near the Ohio River whose members are marked by their wheat-colored hair and blue or gray eyes. Thom (Follow the River, not reviewed) is wholly convincing as he depicts the history of Welsh settlement being distorted down through the ages, so that by the time Lewis and Clark make contact with the Mandan in 1804, the Welsh origins of their legends and traditions have been lost, even though one white sympathizer recognizes in the Mandan tongue a few Welsh words. Thom's well-meaning eagerness to depict Native American nobility often leads to an overly romanticized portrait; generation after generation, they seem impervious to any moral failing (in stark and too obvious contrast to each wave of European explorers, from the Welsh to DeSoto's Spaniards to early 19th-century French traders), and after a while the Indian characters begin to seem stultifying in their sameness. The female players are often weak victims and fade altogether from importance at the end of the novel. Nonetheless, a well-researched and intriguing, if somewhat idealized, fictional portrait of a legendary lost people. (First printing of 75,000; author tour)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-345-37005-8
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1994




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