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on 27 September 2014
A thoroughly enjoyable piece of travel / autobiography / history / myth-investigating / biography. Rhys' book is not easy to categorise, but is all the more interesting for that. He is a personable narrator who gently and almost imperceptibly leads the reader into the world of his avatar, John Evans. Before long, it hardly matters that this three foot high felt figure speaks, has opinions, drives trucks and interacts wih fans and journalists. Suspend your disbelief as you enter this world and you will find it an enchanting, idiosyncratic and unique one. Quite unlike anything I have read before, I will return again to this. On the back of reading it, I have purchased the DVD of the film of this trip and have the music album on rotation on Spotify. Nice one, Gruff!
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on 30 June 2015
Gruff Rhys is a musician who decided that, during a tour of the US in 2012, he would follow the route of a Welshman called John Evans who, in 1792, had tried to track down Welsh-speaking Indians living on the Great Plains.

These were supposed to have been descendants of the Welsh prince Madog who "discovered" America in 1170.

Evans spent about seven years in American and, although he never found his Welsh Indians, he made a great contribution to mapping much of which was virgin territory* before dying in New Orleans.

Rhys traveled around the Midwest, accompanied by a three foot ventriloquist doll-like replica of Evans made of felt, and describes the places and the many people he met.

Not one of them was a Welsh-speaking Indian, of course, but then again Rhys had never really expected to encounter any.

For me, this is the main drawback to this book. Rhys himself is a Welsh speaker and proud of his countryman's achievements but by making lame remarks and lighthearted asides, he spoils what could have been a better tribute.

He insults his own country by quoting the last of the Mandan speakers, the language Evans had thought might be Welsh, who says: "I've never heard of Wales, makes me think of those big sea creatures".

He also ignores the political side of Evans who ended up being commissioned, along with a Scotsman called MacKay, to work in the service of the Spanish governor of Louisiana and prevent the British from moving down from Canada and exploiting the territory.

This would have been an interesting angle to follow up especially at a time when Scotland and Wales are gaining more power as the present British state starts to crumble.

Nevertheless, it was quite a good read. It is also the first time I've read a book and followed it as a film with a soundtrack via YouTube.

*Rhys claims these maps were later used by the Lewis and Clark expedition.
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on 28 May 2014
This book weaves together the stories of a concert tour in modern America, in company with a felt avatar of his ancestor, John Evans, that in turn followed the trail of the historic pioneering journey Evans took up the Missouri River and the myth and legend that led him there.

To quote from the book itself - "Facts are fluids that occasionally overspill the vessel of truth. They leave a particular stain on the carpet that can take generations to fade away and if the carpet is woven from the absorbent wool of the Welsh imagination, they may never disappear entirely."

It's an inspiring, touching and thought provoking book. It references to the recent treatment of Native Americans has led me back to reread Peter Matthiessen's 'In the Spirit of Crazy Horse'. I can highly recommend it, as I can the app which makes a brilliant companion to the book and follows the story via three maps and completes the tail with short films and photos.
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on 17 February 2015
Even if you've heard the album, seen the film and done whatever it is you do with an app, this book is still very definitely worth a read. Adding extra details and extra wit, it's a wonderfully written account of two men's (Gruff's and John Evans') journeys across America in hope of finding.....well, probably a good story to tell in Gruff's case. Prepare to meet as odd a collection of characters as you would hope for/expect, but don't hold your breath for any lost tribes.
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on 15 September 2014
Rhys is a charming, witty and clear-headed companion following what is, frankly, obviously, a fool's mission, but he succeeds brilliantly in making John Evans' life and journey, with all its despairs and disasters, engaging and fascinating. The accompanying app is worth £2.99 of anyone's money and the album is probably his best non-SFA work to date. The whole project appears to have been meticulously thought through and I'll be ordering the DVD too shortly.
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on 18 May 2015
Much enjoyed Gruff Rhys's style of writing. His idea to recreate the journey undertaken by his 18th century ancestor to discover the truth or not about the existence of the Madogwys (pale-faced, Welsh speaking American Indians) was inspired, particularly his decision to take with him an effigy of his relative. I wish I could have been at some of the gigs he set up along the way.
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on 8 June 2014
Hilarious, educational, eccentric and charming - a fascinating journey of discovery that gets you thinking deeper about different cultures and how no matter which one you adopt, or immerse yourself in or are born into, they all matter. Loved this!
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on 30 June 2014
An interesting book, written in an engaging way that skips from the history of John Evans to present day as Gruff travels around the American Interior in search of the truth about Evans. Informative, funny and quirky, what's not to like.
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on 20 November 2014
Engaging story of both John Evans' adventures in the 1700s, as well as Gruff Rhys' adventures following his ancestor's footsteps---poignant story told very well. I highly recommend it!!!
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on 18 July 2014
An exceptionally well written book offering a most concise, well-informed and insightful summary of John Evans' journey. Gruff's modern-day recreation of the journey and his musical tour ties in perfectly, with just the right amounts of each story.

Gruff also commendably refrains from any form of speculation concerning the Madoc myth, sticking faithfully to the facts as we know them. Contrast, for example, with Ellen Pugh's "Brave his Soul" (which is full of unsubstantiated speculation) and also the work of any number of other dreamers who have put two and two together to make five.

As a Madoc agnostic who has researched this corner of history in detail, the only things I've uncovered which aren't in Gruff's book are firstly some insights from Nicolas de Finiel's "An Account of Upper Louisiana". De Finiel's was living in St Louis at the same time as Evans and his account came not from first hand experience but from interviewing explorers who had recently returned from the titular region. One interviewee (who isn't named) is particularly taken by the sophistication of Mandan pottery and believes it suggests pre Columbus contact with Europeans. The interviewee is also keen for the Mandan to be left alone and uncorrupted by the modern world. I can only imagine who the interviewee might be, but I'd be surprised if it was anyone other than Evans. I hasten to add that the archaeology of W. Raymond Wood suggests nothing out of the ordinary with Mandan pottery fragments but if Evans is the mysterious interviewee, it at least suggests there may be a disparity between the official records and what Evans himself believed. Likewise with Evans' letter to Samuel Jones, which was clearly written under the close gaze of Don Trudeau. If the Mandan really were quite sendentary multi-lingual agriculturalists, with bull boats, earth lodges etc, why doesn't Evans at least mention those facts instead of being quite so dismissive? Of course it's absolutely no proof of anything Madoc-related but again it suggests a disparity between Evans' actual observations and the written record. I'm sure he'd have desperately wanted to find evidence of the Madogwys to justify his vast physical and emotional expense on the project, so surely would have wanted to mention anything which hinted at unusualness amongst the Mandan, so the very absence of any such observations in his letter home to me suggests his hand was guided.

Finally I'd also draw attention to the Mandan big bird story, as related by Ben Benson to Alfred Bowers in his book "Mandan cultural and ceremonial organisation". This myth presents an interesting tale of two brothers who spend time on an island across an ocean before getting homesick and "returning" to their Mandan family. Again, viewed scientifically it gets you absolutely nowhere nearer to finding Madoc, but it does place one more tiny tick in the "possible" column, as it fits the Madoc myth far more closely than the Lone Man story. Added to this is the fact that in the 12th century, the extant local culture was the quite homogenous South East Ceremonial Complex (SECC). By the early 13th century, the population of plains bison had shot up and there was a definite move towards tribal specialisation, with the emergence of hunters, farmers etc and some major migrations eg into Mexico. What happened around this time (late 12th and early 13th century) to cause the break-up of the SECC and the almost Darwinian speciation of these groups? I don't know, haven't read that far yet! But again it's another observation worthy of note.

But still, the whole thing is of course shadow chasing and the odds if Madoc having a. Existed b. sailed to America and c. Left a detectable legacy are extremely slim indeed. It's like picking lottery numbers, each tiny remote possibility would have to come good before addressing the next tiny remote possibility, the best anyone can ever hope to do is shorten a few of the odds but you're still looking at something ridiculously improbable.

Anyway, major digression there...! Suffice to say Gruff's book is great and I highly recommend it!
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