Saturday, September 08, 2012

Book Review: "In the Land of Whispers"

George Robert Minkoff's "In the Land of Whispers" trilogy: The Weight of Smoke (2006), The Dragons of the Storm (2007) and The Leaves of Fate (2011) is, perhaps, the most ambitious fictional account of the English settlement of the New World (certainly it's the most deeply-researched and extensive treatment I've read in a long time).

The three volumes cover the years 1607-1630, with most of the attention focused on the first few years of the settlement at Jamestown (the narrator throughout being Captain John Smith himself). But Minkoff manages to work in tales of earlier times, in the form of stories told to the Jamestown settlers by grizzled alchemist-mariner Jonas Profit, who sailed with Drake in the 1570s and 1580s. In the third volume, when Smith is in exile from Jamestown, it is letters from his friend George Sandys (the colony's treasurer) through which we learn the goings-on back in Virginia.

Minkoff captures quite well the roiling tensions between the Jamestown "gentlemen" who wanted nothing to do with the hard work of creating a colony in Virginia, the laborers who they expected to do said work, and the native people who the colonists relied on for survival (while simultaneously mistrusting deeply). Smith's own writing and publication efforts are an important part of the later volumes, as are his post-Jamestown travels to New England and his concerns over the rise of tobacco culture at Jamestown (not to mention the strong thread running throughout of his disputes with the colony's leaders over general strategy).

Carefully composed, in prose almost lyrical in its rhythms, Minkoff's series is one to be read and enjoyed slowly. While at times the language seems a bit overdone, in general it's simply a pleasure to revel in the complex narrative structure and lose oneself in the days of Hakluyt and Shakespeare.

No comments: