The Coming

David Osborne. Bloomsbury, $30 (528p) ISBN 978-1-63286-385-0
The destruction of the Nez Perce, who were obliterated like other Native American tribes all across the American frontier during the 19th and early 20th centuries, makes harrowing history. Osborne, author of several non-fiction books on government and bureaucracy, has attempted to contain this history in novel form, from “the coming” of Lewis and Clark in 1805 to Chief Joseph’s War in 1877. Daytime Smoke, historical son of William Clark and a Nez Perce woman, leads us through this history at gallop speed—chapters skip years at a time—from the Nez Perce people’s initial hospitality to the explorers, through the betrayal of the tribe, first by Protestant missionaries and then by the American government. Over the span of seven decades, the red-headed Smoke seeks enlightenment. Respectful of old ways, a proven provider, warrior, and leader among the Nez Perce, he also longs to gain wisdom and knowledge from his father’s people. He advocates cooperation with the white settlers, learns their religion and their agricultural ways—and ultimately is betrayed. He is a full-blooded character, as is his wife, Darting Swallow, and, in the beginning chapters, Clark. But Osborne cannot keep up with his huge cast of real-life characters. So much time must pass to tell this story, and so many seminal historical figures are necessary to move the story along, that few of the natives, and virtually none of the whites (with the exception of the flawed and violent missionary Henry Spalding), are any more than passing mentions in the more than 500 pages. Though it is too much to fit in one novel, this work of fiction reaches a level of truth that history cannot in depicting the collision between these two civilizations. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/02/2017
Release date: 02/07/2017
Genre: Fiction
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