Sign-Talker: The Adventure of George Drouillard on the Lewis and Clark Expedition

James Alexander Thom, Author Ballantine Books $25.95 (480p) ISBN 978-0-345-39003-5
An illiterate half-breed employed as translator and hunter on the Lewis and Clark Expedition serves as the conduit for Thom's (The Red Heart) learned but over-meticulous fictional account of the celebrated trek. Wryly observing the bumbling efforts of arrogant whites to win the trust and loyalty of bellicose Indians, George Drouillard follows along as captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and 30-odd white explorers journey up the Missouri River, across the Rockies, to the Pacific shore and back again, all the while plagued by mutiny, desertion, navigational confusion, weather disasters, bitter hardship and fear of Indian attacks. Drouillard hunts meat for the party and keeps himself aloof from its internal politics, constantly commenting to himself on the crass vulgarity of the whites, whom he sees as ignorant, avaricious and materialistic; Indians, in contrast, possess noble spirituality and natural sensitivity. He is a formidable character, and despite his unlikely dedication to the abolitionist struggle, he emerges as genuine and credible. Thom's portraits of Lewis, Clark, the much celebrated Sacagawea and other principal characters are also nicely fleshed out, and often at odds with more popular interpretations. Unfortunately, the book is more an imaginative dramatization of the expedition than anything like historical fiction: it lacks real plot, character development and suspense. Thom's research, mechanics and execution are impeccable in almost every regard, but likely only those seriously interested in an accurate and highly detailed fictionalization of the historical event and period will make it through this dense and slow-moving account. Map. (July)
Reviewed on: 07/03/2000
Release date: 07/01/2000
Ebook - 333 pages - 978-0-307-76315-0
Prebound-Sewn - 512 pages - 978-1-4176-1773-9
Paperback - 492 pages - 978-0-345-46556-6
Mass Market Paperbound - 512 pages - 978-0-345-43519-4
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