Publication date: 2/1/1991
Product dimensions: 6.8 x 4.2 x 1.2 inches
A fictional account of the life of a Siberian tribe 20,000 years ago, from the author of Harmless People and Warrior Herdsmen. It is both the story of a daily struggle for survival against starvation, cold and violence, and an evocation of spiritual journeys and primitive magic.
Those familiar with the author’s landmark study, The Harmless People, will not be surprised at the range of anthropological information she brings to her first novel, or at the lucidity of her prose. What will astonish, engross and move readers in her narrative of a group of hunter-gatherers who lived 20,000 years ago is the dramatic immediacy of the story and the depth and range of character development. A whole culture is imaginatively and authoritatively illuminated, people who live in lodges observing a complex series of societal rules and taboos built around the interrelationships between families that constitute a lineage. It is a life of privation, in which hunger, danger and violence are pervasive. Survival depends on close observation of and intimacy with the animals they use both as role models and as food, and an understanding of the seasonal rhythms governing the annual migrations. We meet the protagonist, Yanan, as a young girl, living with her family in what is now Siberia.
[expand title=”Show More”]Just a few chapters into the narrative, she dies and becomes a spirit who must serve the members of her lodge by finding food for them, often by taking on the form and behavioral characteristics of animals or birds. The story proceeds in flashback as Yanan relates the memories of her youth: the death of her mother after childbirth and of her father from hunting wounds, leaving Yanan and her baby sister alone in desolate country; their fearsome trek to rejoin other members of their lineage; Yanan’s marriage; the rash deeds that cut her off from the people she loves and the tragic mistake that seals her fate. Thomas never romanticizes her characters, nor does she demean them by arch language or a patronizing tone. Yanan is an enchanting young woman: intelligent and courageous, an excellent hunter, but also headstrong and hot-tempered. Other characters are equally as vivid, and as involving of the reader’s emotions. Suspenseful, insightful, poignant, this novelthe first to be issued under the Davison imprintis a remarkable achievement.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.[/expand] —Publishers Weekly
My name was Yanan and my story began where it ended, in Graylags lodge on the highest terrace above the north bank of the char River. The lodge was big, with two smokeholes instead of one, and very well made, the best I’ve ever seen. Graylag built it with his three brothers before his brothers died, while they were still young. The pit of the floor was dug deep. The walls were braced with the legbones of mammoths, which in turn were braced with boulder and would with spruce branches tied on with straps of reindeer hide, which shrinks when wet, so wind didn’t move the lodge and rain didn’t make it leak. Water drew it tight.
The arch of the roof was made of cast antlers forced together as if the deer were fighting, and was so high that only a few of the men had to stoop when they stood up. Over the spruce branches and antlers were hides, and over the hides were strips of sod. The lodge was so strong that people, or any amount of snow, could stand on it without breaking it, and so thick that weather came in only through the smokeholes. Thieving animals never came in, since we kept a dead spruce to pull, butt end first into the door of the coldtrap.
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On top of the lodge Graylag and his brothers put a wonderful thing, a group of very long antlers from huge spotted deer almost never seen around the Char. Each antler was almost as long as the lodge, and standing on it, they looked like a grove of birch on a low hill, or like a herd of spotted deer lying down. The antlers stood out against the sky and could be seen far up and down the river—a sight that always told us we were reaching home.
Behind the lodge, a low cliff rose to the plain, so storms from the north blew over us and the south-facing rock cast sunlight on the lodge all day. Below the lodge, other terraces fell away to the floodplain of the river, where roe deer and sometimes horses browsed the willow scrub. The river was fast and shallow, and rushed around boulders so, except in the coldest part of winter, holes of open water showed in the ice. From our lookout in front of the lodge, we could watch for red deer or horses or reindeer following their trails down the terraces to drink.
On the south side of the river grew a wide spruce forest where bearded lichen hung from the little trees. In winter we hunted the reindeer who sheltered among the trees eating the lichen until the Woman Ohun sent them on their long spring walk back to the open plains. The forest was crossed through and through with trails, those made by reindeer and also by us, since in winter Graylag made the young people of the lodge gather firewood every day.