Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on November 11, 2020
Oona is half Eastern, meaning civilized, orderly, ruthlessly tamed into order, and half Amerind: Native, Western, unruly and untamed. She works as a mapmaker, a word that in her language also means traitor, but in this author’s imagination this profession is not about drawing representations of the physical world. Rather, Oona uses her innate magic to control the bucking bronco-like land west of the Mississippi River into quiescent docility so that the surveyor crew by whom she’s employed can survey in advance of further economically-promising incursions into the wilds. The natural world fights against this notion of Manifest Destiny, which is why a mapmaker like Oona is crucial to any attempt at Westward expansion.

This novella, or short story, sets up the heroine’s defining split heritage, her anger at the aggressors who would expand into the West, and the ties that bind her to her impossible, disagreeable job. The baddies—the surveyors, business people, the greedy public—are suitably bad; the victims—the Native peoples, the sick, the dispossessed, and the destitute—are clearly justified in their resistance to relentless progress.

The narrative is broken often by “footnotes” referencing other works and thus rewriting the historical and literary locus of the story. For example, Marcus Polo’s 1857 essays are quoted on the subject of exploration of new lands, and Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness has had its setting modified from the wilds of Africa to the Western U.S. in the last half of the nineteenth century. Native lore like the bone trees seems more legitimate than the works cited.

This work’s format will be familiar to readers who have been exposed to this author previously. I think it is an effective, evocative way to articulate the ersatz scholarly gravitas of the story. I enjoyed this short, engrossing read.
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