One theme I found to be particularly compelling in this book which has not been directly explored in the reviews currently posted is the search for identity which seemingly each character in this novel is engaged. Lewis Moon, a man who existes on the fringe of the dominant culture of the US, longs for validation in the culture of his ancestors, a culture which is tragically unavailable. The missionaries, Protestant and Catholic alike, seek identity and validation in the people they seek to convert, including the endless "conversion" of their own families. The other characters have their own identity issues. The most compelling of these searches, to my mind, was that of Lewis Moon who, without any feeling of loyalty to any culture available to him, seeks identity in an indiginous culture not yet eradicated by the dominant Chilean culture of European origin. (Perhaps he thinks he can help them avoid the fate of the culture of his ancestors.) The novel explores each character's basis for self-perception and what they do when their basic assumptions about their role in the world are challenged. What does it mean to be an American? What does it mean to be an American who has had his citizenship revoked? What does it mean to have faith? What if the dogma of your denomination appears to produce results that seem "un-Christlike?" What does it mean to indentify as a member of an indigineous people? What does that mean when you are among members of another indiginous people? All these questions (and there are many more) posed in the book have lead me to a better perception of who I am and why I think so. One of the best books I've had the pleasure to have read.
Excellent in every way. The characters are strong and engaging. The story moves along rapidly and is riveting. It's never an easy task to portray hunter gatherer folk in a novel, but here I think the author succeeds admirably. His descriptions have a feel of authenticity and are keenly observed. I'll definitely be checking out more from Mr. Matthiessen.