Customer Review

16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bursts stereotypes, August 3, 2002
This review is from: The White (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! Get out of here! Better that in your cowardice you are gone."
Larsen also likes to mix in quotes from the Bible, often referring to Job and by comparison Mary. Of Mary Jemison, James Seaver says, "Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars." There's more, but it's obvious that he had enormous respect for this woman who lived among "savages".
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