Farley Mowat's niggling doubts began in the summer of 1966, while he was tooling around the Canadian Arctic aboard a single-engine Otter float plane. The previous year, he had published the influential Westviking, a book that presaged the now widely held opinion that the Norse arrived in North America some 500 years before Columbus. But what Mowat found that summer of '66--troubling evidence that would be buttressed by determined research and field work over the next 30-odd years--convinced him that he had gotten it all wrong. Another group of Europeans, whom Mowat calls the "Albans," beat the Norsemen to the punch by a few hundred years, arriving in North America as they were both fleeing the rapacious Vikings and pursuing precious walrus ivory.
A professional scientist but an amateur anthropologist, Mowat likes to stir the pot--and he does it well, with a combination of scientific rigor, good-natured wit, and old-fashioned storytelling. (It's easy to imagine Mowat as an ideal companion out on the monotonous tundra, spinning endless stories over wine and cigarettes.) Interspersed among discussions of the Albans' culture, ethnography, and use of technology, Mowat's speculations on their trips and travails in fictional "vignettes" fill in the "immense lacunae" in the historical record. But his reasoning is always so sound--and his narrative so captivating--that you'll find it hard not to join Mowat's speculative journey with the Farfarers. --Paul Hughes
From Publishers Weekly
A veteran investigator of early European voyages to North America, Mowat (Westviking) has conjured up a vision of pre-Viking settlement by a people he calls the Albans. Originating in what is now Scotland, Mowat's Albans were displaced in stages between about 700 and 1000 A.D., first to Iceland and Greenland, and finally to the western coast of Newfoundland. The author sees the Albans as driven westward by two forces: the search for valuables such as sealskin and walrus tusk, and the remorseless pressure of Viking raiders. To support his thesis, Mowat presents what scant evidence exists-mainly, stone constructions, like tower beacons and foundations for shelters, which Mowat believes cannot be attributed to the Norse or to native inhabitants of Greenland or Atlantic Canada, and which resemble stonework found in the Orkney Islands. On this basis, Mowat accepts that the Albans existed and sets out to imagine what their migrations were like. Scattered throughout the book in italicized passages are stories set in that era, telling how the Albans might have explored their new surroundings and survived, even prospered, in the Arctic. The Albans lost their separate identity, Mowat believes, by merging into the aboriginal population of Newfoundland. This account rests on informed speculation, as Mowat explicitly acknowledges, and is not intended as a formal exposition of all the evidence for and against the author's thesis. The book is best enjoyed as a richly detailed and imaginative reconstruction of how a long-vanished European people may have been the first of their kind to venture into the New World. Illus. (Feb.)
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