email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""Who Could That Be at This Hour?"3 Willows4th of July99 DaysA Beautiful MindA Change in AltitudeA Corner Of The UniverseA Frog ThingA Great and Terrible BeautyA People's History of ChristianityA Question of BloodA Slight Trick of the MindA Step Toward FallingA Thousand Miles from NowhereA Voyage Long and StrangeA Wedding in December Abraham LincolnAcross the River and Into the TreesAfter DarkAgainst Medical AdviceAll the Bright PlacesAll the Way HomeAll Unquiet ThingsAlphavilleAmerica AmericaAmong the DepartedAn EducationAn Object of BeautyAnatomy of a MisfitAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaBad BoyBad RatsBarbara the Slut and Other PeopleBeach RoadBeat the ReaperBeauty QueensBed of RosesBefore I DieBefore I FallBefore the FrostBig BrotherBiteBlack Elk SpeaksBlameBleed for MeBlonde FaithBlood, Salt, WaterBody SurfingBog ChildBoneMan's DaughtersBoomsdayBorder CrossingBorn Standing UpBoys Are DogsBoys Will Put You on a Pedestal (So They Can Look Up Your Skirt)Brava, ValentineBreak Through PainBreathingBridge of SighsBrief Interviews with Hideous MenBrutalBy BloodC StreetCalm Beneath the WavesCanadaCellCemetery DanceChange Your Brain, Change Your LifeCheeverCinnamon KissCleopatraClose Your EyesCompulsionCross CountryCyborgasmDakotaDancing at the Shame PromDarkest FearDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDead EvenDear Zoe,Death Without TenureDeceptionDefending JacobDefine NormalDeliriumDevil in the DetailsDiscovering Pig MagicDisturbing GroundDivergentDivine JusticeDivisaderoDoing ItDown the Rabbit HoleDr. Andrew Weil's Mindbody ToolkitDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDriftlessEven Dogs in the WildEvery Exquisite ThingEvery Little Thing in the WorldEye ContactFaith, Hope, and Ivy JuneFaking NormalFalling ManFamily FirstFans of the Impossible LifeFear of the DarkFellsideField of BloodFile Under: 13 Suspicious IncidentsFiregirlForest of the PygmiesFortunate SonFraudFreak the MightyFree RefillsFull Steam Ahead!Furiously HappyGenerosityGenomeGetting a Good Night's SleepGetting the Love You Want Audio CompanionGiftedGirl in TranslationGod Is DeadGod Is Not OneGods and BeastsGoing BovineGranny Torrelli Makes SoupGraysonHappy FamilyHappy Mutant Baby PillsHarmlessHe's Just Not That Into YouHealthy AgingHeartbeatHeftHigh HeatHolidays on IceHot MilkHotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel WorldHotels of North AmericaHow a Gunman Says GoodbyeHow Full Is Your Bucket?How Successful People ThinkHow to Build a HouseHow to See Yourself As You Really AreHow to Set a Fire and WhyHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurt Go HappyHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenI Am Not Joey PigzaI Can See YouI Drink for a ReasonI Feel Bad About My NeckI'd Know You AnywhereIdiot AmericaIf a Tree Falls at Lunch PeriodIf I StayIf You StayImagine Me GoneIn ZanesvilleInfinite JestInheritanceInnocentInside the O'BriensInvincibleInvisibleIt Takes OneJennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, ElizabethJust LifeKiss of Broken GlassKissing Ted Callahan (And Other Guys)Leaping BeautyLies My Girlfriend Told MeLife After LifeLife InterruptedLife of PiLife StrategiesLisey's StoryLitLittle Black LiesLittle ScarletLive For Your Listening PleasureLiving Your DreamLong Shadow of Small GhostsLooking for BobowiczLost in the ForestLove Is a Mix TapeLove Times ThreeLove, AubreyLowboyMadappleMade For YouMagical ThinkingMagnificenceMaliceMan in the WoodsMeditation in a New York MinuteMeetings with a Remarkable ManMiddlesexMind MappingMindfulness for BeginnersMirrorMaskMischlingMissing PresumedMolly Moon's Incredible Book of HypnotismMommies Who DrinkMunich AirportMy AbandonmentMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Name Is RedMy One Hundred AdventuresMy Sister's KeeperName All the AnimalsNelson Mandela's Favorite African FolktalesNemesisNever Let Me GoNight FilmNina: AdolescenceNinety DaysNone of the AboveNurtureShockObjects of My AffectionOlive's OceanOn Chesil BeachOne Flew Over The Cuckoo's NestOutliersPaint It BlackPanicParadise LodgeParanoiaPeace Is Every BreathPeople Who Eat DarknessPharmakonPictures of Hollis WoodsPictures of YouPilgrim at Tinker CreekPlaying with FirePlease Stop Laughing at UsPositivityPresumed InnocentPretty Girl-13Prisoner of Night and FogPuddlejumpersPunkzillaReady for AnythingRebuttalRequiemRescueRevolutionary RoadRoomRun for Your LifeSay You're SorryScatSchool of FearSeason to TasteSecrets of a Passionate MarriageSee How SmallSeeds of HopeSex and SpiritSide Effects May VarySilencedSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaSix Impossible ThingsSkelligSleeping BeautySnowSo Brave, Young and HandsomeSolitaireSomeday This Pain Will Be Useful to YouSourlandSquirrel Seeks ChipmunkStill MissingStory of a GirlStress ReliefSupreme CourtshipSurviving OpheliaSwimming to ElbaSworn to SilenceSymptoms of Being HumanTeaseTeaseTell the Truth, Shame the DevilTen Minutes to RelaxTestimonyThat Old Cape MagicThe Abortionist's DaughterThe AccidentalThe Accidental BillionairesThe AdultsThe Almost MoonThe Anatomy of HopeThe Art of ChoosingThe Art of Exceptional LivingThe Artist of DisappearanceThe Average American MarriageThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe Beat Goes OnThe Best AwfulThe Big LoveThe Boat RockerThe Book of JoeThe Book of LiesThe Book of the DeadThe Boy Who DaredThe Boyfriend ListThe Brass VerdictThe Breakout PrincipleThe Burden of ProofThe Case for GodThe Case of the Case of Mistaken IdentityThe Cemetery BoysThe Chosen OneThe ClosersThe Consciousness PlagueThe Conspiracy ClubThe Cuckoo's CallingThe Day I Ate Whatever I WantedThe Dead Fathers ClubThe Death of Bunny MunroThe Devotion of Suspect XThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksThe Diviner's TaleThe Dressmaker of Khair KhanaThe Dynamite RoomThe Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round ThingsThe EndThe Erotic EdgeThe Essential KamasutraThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustThe Forgotten GirlsThe Geography of You and MeThe Gift of an Ordinary DayThe Gingerbread GirlThe Girl in 6EThe Girl in the GardenThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's NestThe Girl Who Played with FireThe Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Grief of OthersThe Grim GrottoThe Guise of AnotherThe Guy Not TakenThe Heart of YogaThe Heretic's DaughterThe Ice QueenThe Ice TwinsThe Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe InseparablesThe InterestingsThe Keeper of Lost CausesThe Kings of LondonThe Language God TalksThe Language of SecretsThe Language Of YogaThe Last ChildThe Last MileThe Last Time We Say GoodbyeThe Male BrainThe Man from BeijingThe Man in My BasementThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Map of True PlacesThe Marriage PlotThe Memory Book The Mermaids SingingThe Ministry of Special CasesThe MuralistThe Museum of InnocenceThe Mystery of the Third LucretiaThe Myth of LazinessThe NarrowsThe Necessary Death of Lewis WinterThe New YorkersThe NewleywedsThe NixThe NursesThe Opposite of InvisibleThe Other Side of the StoryThe Outcasts of 19 Schuyler PlaceThe Particular Sadness of Lemon CakeThe PastThe Penultimate PerilThe PostcardThe Pregnant WidowThe Promise of a LieThe PyramidThe Qi Healing KitThe ReaderThe Republican BrainThe Rule of FourThe Rules of SurvivalThe Savage CityThe ScarecrowThe Second GirlThe Secret Life of BeesThe Secret of Lost ThingsThe Secret ScriptureThe Secret SpeechThe Secret Wisdom of the EarthThe ShallowsThe Shock of the FallThe Silent BoyThe SisterThe Sound of Broken GlassThe SpindlersThe Story HourThe Story of Beautiful GirlThe Sudden Arrival of ViolenceThe Survivors ClubThe Sweet Relief of Missing ChildrenThe Sweetness at the Bottom of the PieThe Tail of Emily WindsnapThe Tenth JusticeThe Thing About JellyfishThe Third AngelThe TouristThe Treasure Map of BoysThe Trouble with Goats and SheepThe Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector ChopraThe Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia MossThe UnquietThe Unseen WorldThe View from SaturdayThe WaveThe Weed That Strings the Hangman's BagThe Weight of the NationThe Whole TruthThe WilloughbysThe Witch's BoyThe Wolves of AndoverThe Words We Live ByThe Wrong Side of GoodbyeThe Year of the FloodThe Year That FollowsThe Yin Yoga KitThirteen Reasons WhyThis Beautiful LifeThis Body of DeathThis Book Is Not Good For YouThis Full HouseThis Is HowThose GirlsThose Who Wish Me DeadTony & SusanToo Much HappinessTooth and NailTouchTransformation TriburbiaTrue BelieverTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTwinmakerTwistedTwo Can PlayTwo Little Girls in BlueUnaccustomed EarthUnder the HarrowUnder the InfluenceUnder WildwoodUnlessUnthinkingUp in the AirVery ValentineVisits from The Drowned GirlVoid MoonWaiting for SunriseWalkingWarWatching the DarkWhat the Dog SawWhen We Were AnimalsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhen You Reach MeWhere She WentWherever You Go, There You AreWhite HotWild AwakeWild ChildWildwoodWill They Ever Trust Us Again?Wolf in White VanWomen's Murder Club Box SetYoga SanctuaryYou Look Different in Real LifeYou Should Have KnownYou Will Know Me
In A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World, Tony Horwitz entertains two parallel story lines, one entrenched in the past, serving as the focal source, and the other, solidly grounded in the present, serving as a complementary source. The main narrative is specifically devoted to an historical account of the "discovery" of the Americas by European explorers, whereas the ancillary narrative is dedicated to a re-discovery of what remains of the lands and people who inhabited the main narrative. The outcome of this story-telling juxtaposition is two engaging narratives that, albeit similarly situated and ostensibly driven by the intent to uncover their shared attributes, never appear to have much in common as if they were two strangers who accidentally initiated a conversation, believing that they might have something to share but soon come to realize the illusory nature of their belief.
Horwitz successfully engages the metaphor of the traveler who knows little about the past of his/her country and all the characters and stories that populate it. This scenario justifies his decision to embark on a journey that will lead him not only to uncover the many events that characterize the European conquest of the Americas but also to rectify the understanding of those events that formal instruction and the passage of time may have distorted. His journey, which is intended to document the "facts" of the past by relying on the historical artifacts that are conventionally found in museums and libraries, is entangled with another less traditional journey, which, albeit driven by the same intent, relies on surveying the lands that have hosted the "facts" narrated by those artifacts. The latter is mostly a survey that does not cease to be unsatisfying and whose usefulness is never clearly defined. Namely, although the author acknowledges that little remains of the past on the lands that once hosted the quite horrific scenes of the European conquest, his excursions involving topographical surveys and interviews with the individuals who inhabit those lands neither elucidate the existing narratives nor help to discern their authenticity.
Notwithstanding their questionable usefulness, the author's excursions are engaging and compelling. Most of the interviews reveal that the gruesome facts of the Europeans' conquest of the American territories, inhabitants, cultures, and resources remain little known to the general public or are distorted by the ethnic stereotypes of the prevailing European traditions. The few interviews that deviate from this script are conducted with real or presumed experts who distinguish themselves for their remarkable determination to uncover the "facts" of a given expedition or settlement. In the verbal exchanges with the author, the interviewees emerge as tangible and attractive quixotic characters. Not surprisingly, their idiosyncratic present and no less idiosyncratic personal past appear not to offer a simple, one-dimensional account of their determination to investigate historical accounts whose authenticity remains difficult, if not impossible, to assess. On the contrary, the sheer complexity of these characters makes each of them an enigma, which, as each of the historical accounts whose authenticity they aim to assess, may never be unequivocally resolved.
The main narrative represents an illustration of Horwitz's skillful writing. His portrayal of the many historical events that pertain to the European conquest dutifully includes contradictory accounts and painstakingly identifies missing segments of available narratives. Yet, he does not refrain from venturing beyond the information gathered from reading historical documents and interpreting the material traces of past existences. His goal is to illustrate scenarios that are both plausible and probable. Accordingly, he offers a uniform story line for each of the historical events he narrates by defining the most probable account and embellishing it with plausible "facts", if the "facts" are missing or uncertain. As a result, Horwitz's script is quite compelling because it forces the reader not only to examine the scarcely available "evidence" critically, but also to ponder the feasibility of alternative story lines, which may not always be those provided by the author. Obviously, Horwitz's skillful writing is partially responsible for this outcome; but his equally skillful and objective examination of the available "facts" and his weaving them into well-crafted scenarios make A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World a required read for all who believe that "knowledge of history as detailed as possible is essential if we want to comprehend the past and be prepared for the future" (Pearl S. Buck, 1954).
Undoubtedly, Horwitz expertly weaves a wealth of historical events. Sadly, all reflect the unfairness and sheer brutality of the European conquest of the "new world" and the absurdity of explorations mostly driven by the maddening need to acquire wealth rather than by the desire to acquire knowledge. Purported as mere explorations, North American conquest by Europeans robbed many Native Americans of their lives by introducing unknown diseases, overpowering weapons, and warfare tactics. Those who survived had their freedom forcefully curtailed, were often deprived of their lands and worldly goods, and witnessed the obliteration of their cultural traditions and identities. Throughout the atrocities of conquest, Horwitz reminds the reader that cases of successful resistance, impressive resilience, and even of peaceful coexistence existed. Yet Horwitz consistently reports destructive actions, which were so vast in number, magnitude and scope that their scars are still detectable now, centuries after their occurrence, not only in the descendants of native inhabitants but also on land their ancestors fought to protect. Scars left by such acts on people and lands, as reported by Horwitz and by numerous other writers, are reminders of the deleterious consequences of greed, accompanied by illusions of racial/ethnic superiority.
The sheer number and undeniable magnitude of atrocities narrated by Horwitz is likely to overwhelm even the most devoted reader. Sadly, atrocities of a more near past and those currently happening suggest that actions as described by Horwitz have continued to occur in diverse lands, by different individuals and by different means. Reading books such as Horowitz's A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World may not halt these atrocities, but it will certainly demand more than a thought-filled pause from the reader.
© 2008 Maura Pilotti
Maura Pilotti, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Hunter College, New York