Monday, July 13, 2015


This book is not a part of my pre-arranged reading list this year.  But when I stumbled across a fictionalized take on Margaret Mead’s life, with a cover like that?  I was a goner.  Take a minute and look at that cover again.  I was over a third of the way through the book when I realized the cover has a photographic credit.  That’s a picture, not a painting, folks.  A rainbow gum tree’s bark, which plays a small part in the book.  Thank goodness that’s not something she made up (see below).

It's appropriate that it shows up in the middle of my posts on Ireland, because I read this during the trip (somewhat unusual for me, also see below).

For the text itself – I love this book but I’m still not sure why.  No one should ever say what I just did, that this is a fictionalized take on Margaret Mead.  It’s an author who thought, oh, three anthropologists in New Guinea, what a wonderful start.  Let’s change their names slightly but make everything else up!  I think my love comes from King just doing such a good job of making everything else up.  There is a real emotional richness to the story.  And King winds it all up much more neatly, if also far more dramatically, than the threads appear to have been tied in real life.

There are some slip ups, particularly in research.  I read a review complaining that the book mentions the howling of monkeys, when monkeys are not found in New Guinea.  And I found another one – describing thousands of white osprey lifting off of a lake.  Birders know that white ospreys are not a thing and that your standard osprey wouldn’t be caught dead acting like that, much less with thousands of its peers.  They’re essentially hawks, for crying out loud.

But in the end it just seems like more of King’s imagination at work.  She needed thousands of white osprey for a particular moment in the story, and they didn’t exist, so she made them up.  That’s impressive in an odd way, and it IS a beautiful moment in the book.  I can forgive that.

Final call:

I always take books on vacation, but I rarely find the time to read them.  That I started and finished this during a fantastic visit to Ireland should tell you how strongly it was pulling on me.  I should give it a five based on pure entertainment value, but I know this book is like ice cream.  Tasty but not  a lot of nutritional value :)

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