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The White Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 16, 2002

30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In her first novel, poet Larsen (Stitching Porcelain) mines historical territory, reinterpreting the life of Mary Jemison, a white woman who was captured in 1758 by a Shawnee raiding party at her home in Gettysburg, Pa., while the rest of her family was murdered and scalped. In Larsen's retelling, 16-year-old Mary will not speak to her captors at first, trying to keep her mind blank of all thoughts other than escape, concentrating solely on her mother's last words to her: "do not forget your English." Mary is eventually adopted by another tribe, the Seneca. Learning their language and culture, marrying and bearing six children, Mary ultimately finds herself at home with them and no longer feels the compulsion to escape or return to white society at all. Larsen's lyricism and imagery are haunting, and her poet's sensibility is omnipresent, especially in her descriptions of the natural world. Yet the first-person reflections that Larsen intersperses throughout somehow don't quite live up to the sensational story. Mary's voice is likable but not fully developed, and not nearly as compelling as Larsen's more straightforward descriptions of Seneca life and the encounters between Native American and white society. After the real-life Jemison told her story to a physician and local historian, James Seaver, she reportedly said, "I did not tell them who wrote it down half of what it was." Larsen's tale soars with poetic language, but does not quite succeed in filling in the missing half.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Based on historical events, this well-wrought, carefully researched novel depicts the life of Mary Jemison, "the White Woman of the Genesee." Mary, a member of the Seneca tribe for more than 70 years, was born and raised among Irish pioneers in the Pennsylvania wilderness. In 1758, the settlement near Gettysburg where 16-year-old Mary lived with her family was attacked by Shawnee warriors and their French allies. Those who are not killed outright are taken captive. After a brutal forced march to Fort Duquesne (during which some of Mary's family are scalped), the girl is chosen for adoption by two young Seneca women. Although at first she begs for death, Mary adjusts to her new life with the help of her Seneca family's kindness and care, eventually marrying and becoming a major landowner. During a long life marked by both joy and tragedy, she has opportunities to leave but chooses not to rejoin white society. The author of Stitching Porcelain, a book of poems, Larsen tells Mary's story in elegant, poetic language that evokes time, place, and character with feeling and conviction and brings to life a historical period unfamiliar to many. For most fiction collections. Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (July 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375413596
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375413599
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,295,176 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Eric Wilson on September 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"The White" is sparse, yet rich with imagery and color. The story opens with a young girl's plight as her family is captured and destroyed by Indians in the mid 1700's. She alone lives to share the tale. Mary's story, based on fact, is told with a simple style befitting her mindset. She is emotionally dead and even language, in the aftermath of her sorrow, is a useless appendage to her.
As the story moves along, we see Mary open slowly to the warmth of her adopted Seneca family. Particularly, the sincere and sensitive advances of her future Indian husband crack her shell of grief. At times, Larsen's words have haunting power. At other times, they simply fill the book in its headlong rush to a conclusion. So much is skipped over that it was hard not to feel cheated. Unlike other reviewers, I appreciated the first-person accounts, almost wishing Larsen had pursued this approach throughout. If Larsen truly wanted to fictionalize and expand upon this true story, why not do it with depth? Why, for example, should we feel any true sorrow over the deaths of Mary's sons when we see so little of the relationship between them all?
The aspects of Seneca life and thought are tantalizingly interspersed through the story, and the dark images of injustice done to and by the Indians give this novella historical worth. As a story, it is interesting, as well as briefly and intermittently moving. Although fully worth the brief amount of time required to read, "The White" left me wondering why I wasn't given more to chew on. As small reward, Larsen does end with Mary's first childhood memory, one that not only carries symbolic and emotional meaning, but also calls into question our very understanding of the book's simple title.
Perhaps, on a second reading, this book is not so simple after all.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Dave Schwinghammer VINE VOICE on August 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I like historical fiction, so I couldn't wait to get my hands on THE WHITE by Deborah Larsen. I had also read a previous account of Mary Jemison, a white women who lived her entire life with the Indians. She willingly stayed it seems as she was given the opportunity to return to her own people a number of times. Mary was sixteen in 1758 when she and her family were taken by a Shawnee raiding party. She is adopted by two Seneca sisters and given the name Two-Falling Voices. She resembles their brother who'd been killed in battle and is taking his place.
THE WHITE is a small book, only two hundred nineteen pages with lots of white space. Larsen alternates between Mary's own voice and third person. It's hard to know if the italicized material is Mary's actual voice or a fictionalized version of what she said in A NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF MARY JEMISON: THE WHITE WOMAN OF THE GENESEE, by James Everett Seaver, M.D., which was first published in 1823.
Despite its brevity, I was impressed by a number of things. Mary's first husband, Sheninjee, was not the chauvinistic warrior of countless Hollywood movies. He woos Mary by helping her hoe corn. He dies on a trading mission and she takes a second husband, Hiokatoo, an ancient warrior who'd fought in countless battles. He likes to brag about the number of scalps he's taken, and at first Mary is offended by this, until they discuss it. The discussion sounds like something out of Margaret Meade. Larsen emphasizes the fact that the Indians did not invent scalping. The French put bounties on the heads of the aboriginals and the scalp was evidence.
At the end of her life Mary owns 10,000 acres of land, but she also loses three of her sons who killed each other, their brains pickled by drink. The funeral eulogy is quite shocking. "Go!
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Propelled by lyrical prose and a strong narrative voice Deborah Larsen's novel fascinates. By taking an actual event and imagining what-might-have-been, the author is able to offer a sometimes savage, sometimes beautiful picture of life in mid 18th century America.
As Ms. Larsen explains in her prefatory note, a young woman around the age of sixteen was taken from her Pennsylvania home by a Shawnee raiding party and their French compadres. The year was 1758, and the girl's name is thought to be Mary Jamison.
We learn this again through our fictional protagonist and narrator, Mary: "I was born a white at sea on the way to the New World...But I was taken by those whom we called Indians. Nearly speechless for a time, I was beset by terrors."
Following their abduction the captives are forced to endure a torturous march during which Mary's parents are killed. Fearful and alone, Mary hopes for death, but she is selected for adoption by two young Seneca women. Later, Mary learns that she is to take the place of a brother lost to the white men, and is given the name Two-Falling-Voices. "According to custom, I stood in a brother's place, though I may just as easily have been scalped, since satisfaction and justice came either through the taking of life or by means of adoption."
During her early days with the Senecas Mary remains stoically silent, remembering the Scripture she had heard read in her former home and sadly doing as she was bidden. But eventually the two sisters are able to reach her and she learns the Seneca tongue and customs.
As time passes she catches the eye of Sheninjee, a young Delaware warrior who marries her. She comes to care for him, and is devastated when their first child is still born.
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