In this debut Neolithic novel, a cave-dwelling boy’s life utterly changes when he’s kidnapped by obsidian traders and taken to a bustling urban center.
Born in 6350 B.C.E. in what’s now northern Turkey, Tulirane, called Tuli, is 7 years old and lives with his small family group in a sheltered cave. After an especially severe winter, the tribe faces famine. Usually ignored, Tuli becomes a hero when he discovers a hibernating bear, whose meat saves the tribe and their relatives from starving to death. Later that summer, Tuli is allowed for the first time to join the clan when it moves south, seeing new sights, meeting new people, and hearing of new dangers, like raiders who kidnap women. And Tuli at last learns the story of his father, a northern stranger named Rane, who was searching for a holy man to the south (perhaps, it’s hinted, Zarathustra himself). Tulirane (or “Light of Rane”) inherited his father’s height, blue eyes, fair skin, and golden hair, making him stand out among the swarthier, shorter peoples of the Anatolian plateau. Searching for obsidian one day, Tuli is kidnapped by raiders who think he’s a girl. When his captor, Makros, discovers otherwise, he’s not dismayed; instead, he begins working on a scheme to use Tuli for a power grab in his home, Bhelsakros (the tale’s name for Çatalhöyük, one of the world’s first cities). Biding his time, Makros houses his new slave with a kind master obsidian crafter, Urik. Though Bhelsakros is bewilderingly strange, with its bustle, noise, stench, and strange customs, Tuli settles in and learns to craft perfect, long obsidian points, an art he finds deeply compelling. After several years, Makros’ plans come to fruition—plans that will involve Tuli in a secret ritual, a conflict between warriors and priests, and the dawning of a new age in Anatolia.
In her intelligent and absorbing novel, scholar Settegast (When Zarathustra Spoke, 2005, etc.) writes of a time when the Near East was in flux. Hunting and gathering, nomadic pastoralism, and proto-urban living were all practiced in Turkey circa 6400 B.C.E. This cultural complexity, together with the religious and political disputes of the time, gives full flavor to Tuli’s story. At times, Tuli can sound overly academic or stiff, but that’s a small matter. Observant and sensitive, the boy is an engaging narrator, and his descriptions of life and work 8,000 years ago are captivating: how to kill a bear with no more than a wooden mallet and some smoldering pine branches; the difference between obsidian worked with a stone hammer and with an antler punch; how to navigate a city that has no streets or alleyways by rooftop and ladder. The author illuminates ideas, such as the differences between wild and pastoral, in ways that are thought-provoking but still part of the story. The suspenseful conclusion has an unexpected and satisfying resolution—one that may leave readers hoping for a sequel.
A long-ago world comes fully alive in this richly imagined tale.