cover image The Old American

The Old American

Ernest Hebert. Dartmouth Publishing Group, $29.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-1-58465-073-7

His first novel in seven years once again shows Hebert (The Dogs of War) as a meticulously accurate and inspired author of character-driven literary fiction. Again using the sharply observed setting of New England, he goes back in time to create an unforgettable character in Caucus-Meteor, interpreter, visionary, king and ""old American."" The Algonkian chief is central to this mesmerizing captivity narrative set during the French and Indian Wars and based on the true story of 35-year-old Nathan Blake, an Englishman abducted by Indians from his home in Keene, N.H., in 1746. (Blake lived with the Canadian Indians for 10 years before being ransomed by his wife, Elizabeth, and returning to New England, where he died at the age of 100.) Hebert's powerful tale resonates with the honor and dignity of its protagonists. With his own tribe decimated by disease, the grieving, elderly Caucus-Meteor joins an Iroquois raiding party and, almost by accident, acquires Blake as his slave. As their slave/master relationship evolves, the two men become close, eventually working together to negotiate with the French in hopes of securing the village's future. Blake assimilates, becoming the tribe's leader, marrying Caucus-Meteor's daughter Black Dirt, and losing, as Caucus-Meteor predicts, his desire to return to his former life. Caucus-Meteor's poignant remembrances provide rich details of the culture and customs of the Canadian Indians. A description of the ritual of the gauntlet, a ceremony all slaves must endure, is physically brutal, yet beautiful in its psychological complexity. The integrity of Hebert's work is one of its most salient characteristics. (Nov.)