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American Interior: The quixotic journey of John Evans, his search for a lost tribe and how, fuelled by fantasy and (possibly) booze, he accidentally annexed a third of North America Hardcover – 8 May 2014

4.8 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Hamish Hamilton (8 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0241146011
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241146019
  • Product Dimensions: 24.5 x 15.9 x 2.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 91,470 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

A joyous and poignant celebration of the mythical and the real (Caught by the River)

A charming and entertainingly written book (Independent)

The most comprehensive study yet of this strange historical figure (Sunday Express)

Written in an exuberant, entertaining style, American Interior is alive to the quixotic nature of Evans's quest, while offering a sideways look at the nexus between history and myth (Financial Times)

A story about gullibility, contradiction, ambition, inexplicable wanderlust . . . this brilliantly life-affirming book highlights a world of wonder far beyond orthodox history (John Harris Guardian)

About the Author

Gruff Rhys is known around the world for his work as a solo artist as well as singer and songwriter with Super Furry Animals and Neon Neon, and for his collaborations with Gorillaz, Dangermouse, Sparklehorse, Mogwai and Simian Mobile Disco amongst others. The latest album by Neon Neon, Praxis Makes Perfect, based on the life of radical Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, was recently performed as an immersive live concert with National Theatre Wales.


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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Paperback
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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