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Killer of Crying Deer Paperback – September 15, 2010
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Read it and you'll be transported back in time to such a different world.
The novel begins with a blindfolded twelve-year-old boy, who is onboard the pirate vessel, Arrogante. Almost immediately the novel flashes back to Henry's kidnapping, to his being splattered with blood as Captain Whitepaul shoots Henry's uncle in the head. Then there is a further flashback to Henry's departure from his home in England, his separation from his family and everything familiar.
In fact, the novel plunges back and forth in time and shifts points of view so frequently the plot sometimes feels disjointed. Poetic lines like these--"He said it in the sound of shifting pelts" and "said it in the sound of cranes, stretching their necks out like dancers in a line"--should convince readers to trust in the author's competence to eventually weave the fragmented story threads into a cohesive whole. The patient reader will be amply rewarded.
Killer of Crying Deer is allegorical, exploring man's true nature through Henry's struggle to find a proper place for the dark voice inside him. The pirates who kidnap him, Black P'ter (shortened from Peter) and Whitepaul, are disciples who illustrate a philosophy of greed and violence. Take what you want. Show no mercy to those who disagree. Win through intimidation. Whitepaul looks on Henry a son. As Henry lives with the pirates, he begins "to feel less, as if his soul too had been worn down and coarsened. Something less touchable inside him began to grow." He becomes desensitized to the violence he witnesses. The pirates replace his given name with "Roojman," because the skin on his palms peels away from working the ship's lines without gloves. The pirates have torn away even his identity. Very late in the novel we learn the same thing happened to P'ter, who used to be Kofi before Whitepaul took him aboard the Arrogante. P'ter chose the ship and violence over a young woman who loved him.
During a storm, Henry falls overboard and washes up on an island, one of the Florida Keys, inhabited by The People. On the island he meets Juan Daylaylo, a former friar, who has come to reject organized religion in favor of listening to the creator's voice in nature. In case the reader has missed the significance of name of this disciple, near the end of the novel, Henry refers to him once as "John." Daylaylo starts as a missionary and evolves into believing the church is violent, a belief illustrated through the character of Albenix, the commander of a slave ship who sees himself as a devout Christian missionary. We meet Albenix as he is serviced in carnal fashion by a cabin boy.
Henry's right arm is injured in the storm and he has lost the use of it. As Henry lives with Daylaylo and the indigenous people, he learns to listen to the voices in the sea. Henry is attracted to a young girl, Speaking Owl, who shows him the beauty of insects and plants on the island. Henry's dead arm comes back to life when he reaches for this woman, representing connection to his feminine side. The spiritual leader on the island, the Caffekey, is considered both male and female, and this idea is reinforced as Henry believes he and Speaking Owl are "separate trees whose roots drank one source" and "she was person, she was not other than he was, not separate from him." The People now give Henry the name "Starfish" because like the sea creature, he has brought a dead limb back to life. The new arm "spoke and sang like the laughing children." Daylaylo tells Henry what he does with his new hand is his "own decision," that he can "create" himself again and "make [himself] right."
The People are not romanticized as peaceful. One warrior, Tied Sticks, leads numerous raids on neighboring tribes and returns with innocent blood on his hands and decay in his soul. The girl Speaking Owl is not afraid of him and eventually this makes him acceptable to the tribe again. But Tied Sticks is unable to defeat his violent impulses and kills the miniature deer, who are part of native legend. As native children play a game, they chant "He kills the deer, they weep."
Killer of Crying Deer is so rich in symbol and masterful in language, it can perhaps can be forgiven for falling a little short as a page-turner.