In this historical novel, French writer Raspail (The Camp of the Saints, 1975) exploits the story of the Alcalufs--sea-nomads who survived among the islands of Tierra del Fuego until European explorers, whalers, and missionaries destroyed them. Raspail's vivid diorama of Alcalufs' harsh climate and Stone Age culture mines most of the melodramatic possibilities of a primitive people incapable of being assimilated. The Alcalufs (or the Kewaskar, The People, in their own language) knew no gods, only evil spirits appropriate to an inhospitable climate, and they were ill-equipped to become ""subsidized peasantry"" worshipping Christ, ""the dead-dead man."" Early chapters acquaint us with their ways and with the European will-to-explore, exemplified by Martin Behairn in Nuremberg, ""the Rome of geographers,"" and by Magellan. Subsequent chapters recount adventures of exploitation, corruption, or degradation as the Alcalufs barter their culture and women for trinkets or rum. ""Waka the Younger Returns from England"" is a fully-realized tale about a ""civilized"" Alcaluf's fevered encounter with her people, with her missionary husband, and even with Darwin aboard the Beagle. ""A Civilized Gentleman"" is about the delicate attempt of a commodore who survived among the Alcalufs for six months to greet them aboard his ship. The other stories are more predictable--early Spanish colonists overrun by natives; Alcalufs as carnival freaks and cannibals; missionaries destroying native culture and bringing deadly influenzas. A familiar story--mutilation and carnage in the name of God and Country--and Raspail's best-seller, already translated into ten languages, rather too easily pulls the requisite heartstrings to profit from the most recent fascination with the primitive. But the Kewaskar People are left with their dignity intact, and this story of extinction is haunting.