Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
At first I was a bit skeptical when Thirteen Moons was selected for my book group. After all, I had read the author's Cold Mountain and found it mediocre at best. Nevertheless, I got started and stuck with it, and I'm glad I did.
At the opening of the book we encounter an old man in the early part of the twentieth century, we sense his death is probably near, and he starts talking about his life history. In an appealing authorial voice the narrator, Will Cooper, traces his life from a twelve year old "bound boy", or indentured servant, to a prosperous trader, "white chief" of the Cherokee Nation, frontier lawyer, Washington lobbyist, and impecunious debtor. Set largely in western North Carolina, Thirteen Moons shows an appreciation of the hardships and possibilities of frontier life and a great empathy for the fate of the native Cherokee as they were forcibly driven from their homes.
As in Cold Mountain, the main character could be criticized for being a little too resourceful or invulnerable, with an almost Zelig-like ability to turn up at important junctures in the history of the nineteenth century, with the exception of his uncanny ability to avoid much serious action during the Civil War. Nevertheless, I don't think this is a terrible criticism: after all, our history is peopled with many remarkable characters, and they're the ones we're mostly interested in. In addition to Will Cooper, the other main characters were well drawn and believable, and the scenes in Indian country in particular demonstrate the author's affection for the land.
When Cold Mountain won the National Book Award for fiction I thought Don Delillo had been robbed. Thirteen Moons surpasses Cold Mountain in every respect.
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