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by Wu Ming and translated by Shaun Whiteside

Pub Date: Oct. 5th, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-84467-342-1
Publisher: Verso

Odd, spirited, tale of educated Indians, savage Europeans and bad mojo in the American outback at the time of the Revolutionary War.

The Italian fiction collective known as Wu Ming is back, having traversed an odd trail from Reformation-era Europe (Q, 2004, as Luther Blissett) and Hollywood (’54, 2006) to the woodlands of upstate New York. The Iroquois Confederation has been running the show for a few centuries, thank you very much, but now upstart colonists east of the fall line are casting covetous glances at the rich interior of America. Mohawk leader Joseph Brant is determined to keep the Americans away and preserve the English crown, and, though a man more civilized than most of his enemies, he is prepared to use whatever means necessary. So are the enemies, however; in a reversal of the Drums Along the Mohawk school of historical fiction, the Americans are the bad guys (“Ethan Allen was a bloodthirsty brigand…he recruited a gang of criminals, the Green Mountain Boys, and pronounced himself their colonel”). Wise women, sage warriors, British nobles, generals and privates, greedy developers and even a few heroes, figure into the proceedings. The scenes are laid out as tableaux, some reminiscent of colonial-era paintings (“Indians and Highlanders mounted guard at the entrance to the avenue. Further on, the dwellings of the slaves, sun-drenched. Children who were little more than infants rolled around amongst dogs and chickens”), all presenting a very European view of the American essence. The battle scenes are particularly well done, even if the dialogue among Indians is straight from the pages of Karl May. There’s a touch too much channeling of modern sensibilities, too, as when one character muses, “What the fuck do they get out of it, these fine gentlemen from Nobshire.”

A worthy treatment of a history too little known, though nowhere near as delightful or as quirky as Q and ’54.