EAGLE SONG by James Houston

EAGLE SONG

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KIRKUS REVIEW

As narrated by Yoquot noble Siam--with wit, patrician dash, and gentle naivetÉ: a mellow, appealing version of the true-life ""captivity"" of ironsmith John Jewett, who, with sailmaker John Thompson, survived an 1803 massacre on board their ship Boston by the Yoquot people of the Canadian Northwest coast. When the Boston (a three-master bristling with muskets, cannon, and ""savage-looking men"") looms off the coast of Wolf Town, a canoe-ful of friendly, welcoming Indians sets off to greet the ""foreigners."" But, in the days that follow, the trading and talk must inch through painful, dangerous obtuseness on both sides, each people snug in its certain superiority. And, with insulting Whites and hot-headed young Indians, the conflict leads to sickening slaughter--from which half-dead Jewett (""Jon Jay"") and Thompson (""Tom Sin"") are the remnants. Maquina, the unsteady chief (he's not half as wise as head-wife Fog Woman), is delighted with these new captive/adoptees. Although Tom Sin remains aloof, the recovered Jon Jay always seems to be singing, smiling, laughing. (""I believed,"" says Siam, ""he was happy to have found a way of life superior to the one he had known before."") The two Whites will even migrate with the Wolf People to their winter beach, where Tom Sin at last sways to the frenzy of a ritual chant. And they will thenceforth participate fully in the tribal life: a potlatch with the Black Fin tribe (""crude distant cousins""), featuring a prolonged excess of gift-giving and inventive insult; a rift between the chief and Siam; the ultimately disastrous giving-and-taking of a bride for Jon Jay; and the rescue from death of Fog Woman via a carved image (which, when split, announces the name of the next head wife). But, in the wake of Maquina's final, mammoth potlatch, comes another White ship. . . and tragedy and betrayal. Lively and companionably affecting, if over-gentrified.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1983
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich