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The Last of the Bird People (edition 2012)

by John Hanson Mitchell

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5036233,859 (3.32)13
Member:andrea58
Title:The Last of the Bird People
Authors:John Hanson Mitchell
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Tags:LTER, 2012

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The Last of the Bird People by John Hanson Mitchell

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Last of the Bird People was an interesting read. I was under the impression that it was non-fiction and was a touch disappointed that it was, in fact, a novel.
As a novel, though, it was fine. It was interesting enough to keep me reading and the historic aspect was fairly well done. ( )
  Peripa | Jul 15, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This novel is presented as a historical report on events related to the disappearance in 1920 of Minor Randall, associate professor of anthropology at Harvard, the sighting of a nomadic tribe in Massachusetts in 1857 and later, and events along the Tamiami Trail in Florida around 1929. The main story is a deposition by the police of one of the members of the tribe, the Bird People. He tells of the history of his people from the coming of Minor Randall, their relocation to Florida traveling along the Appalachian Trail and then down through Georgia and Florida, and the ultimate battle between his people and some Floridians as they try to cross the Tamiami Trail.

I think the idea of a secret tribe of people living among us undetected in the 20th Century has the same appeal for me that the existence of Sasquatch has for modern day pseudo-reality television viewers. In some ways this could be considered a Utopian novel describing a society of multi-racial, multi-ethnic people who build and maintain the community in peace. However, that peace is disrupted by the U.S. government when they invade their remote valley to prepare for building a dam to create a lake.

The telling of the story by Jon Barking Fox, an older member of the tribe and father of Randall's lover, is presented as a deposition. Fox is the sole survivor of the Tamiami Trail massacre, or at least that is what the officials believe. Fox's narrative includes elements of magical realism as he describes the abilities his people have acquired from the animals. He includes the history of their tribe from their beginnings near Cape Cod to their move to Swift River Valley. Mitchell's background in anthropology is evident in the detailed and interesting descriptions provided by Fox of the culture of the Bird People and how that culture changed by necessity as they traveled south and incorporated Randall's knowledge of the world.

Told as an historical record, with reports, statements and depositions, I would want the dates to be accurate, but at one point the story says that 1909 is 75 years after 1857. I tried to reconcile this error, that is, decide what the author meant to write, but I couldn't. The first few sections were very confusing in that way. On the other hand, as you might expect of a real historical record, many questions are left unanswered. Reading and reviewing the glossary provided by Mitchell was useful. ( )
  MurphyWaggoner | Jun 6, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
From the initial description in the Early Readers blurb (which seems to be the same as the plot synopsis on the back), I thought that this was a work of non-fiction. I was intensely curious, and so I was somewhat disappointed when it arrived with the world "novel" on the cover. Despite this initial disappointment, I enjoyed the read. Mitchell tells his tale predominantly in the form of the transcript of a deposition given by an elder in the tribe, the sole survivor of a violent incident, and therefore, "the last of the bird people." This narrator is an interesting construction, simultaneously unreliable and far too omniscient for reality (although he has an explanation for his knowledge). It is his voice, well-developed and unique, is what makes the book so entertaining, and some of the other characters fall a little flat in contrast. Overall, the plot is predictable, a reality that is compounded by the fact that the structure reveals the ending from the first. Overall, it's an entertaining little book, but not an outstanding one.
  pursuitofsanity | Apr 13, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I thought this book was a documentary or history. I was wrong. I have been trying to avoid reading novels because most of them include scenarios which I try to avoid. It is sad to turn the page in a book and discover the main protagonists going at it like a couple of chimpanzees in a monkey house. So when I realized that the cover of the book had the word 'novel' on it - in plain sight, I might add - I set my face like flint and began reading very carefully.

What I read was actually quite good. The book suggests that this was a real event, told in the form of a deposition made by one of the characters in the story. We follow this tribe of wild people as they move from the Northeast United States toward their goal, which is the Everglades in Florida. The story is reminiscent of the Book of Exodus, where Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. Like Moses, the leader of this American Exodus is an outsider of sorts, and has to deal with the various factions of his band of men, women, and children. In addition, I kept thinking back to a blogger whom I used to follow as he hiked along the Appalachian Trail. I would love to take a trip like that, and this book rekindled that yearning in me.

I wish that the author had left off the Epilogue.

There are other things I found interesting in this book. Of course two of the characters have relations, but details are thankfully spared by the author. What struck me was that afterwards the woman searched for a tuber, or root, in the forest which can be used as a contraceptive. Actually, it seemed to be more like an abortifacient or 'Plan B' kind of drug. The man, once he understands what she is doing, asks wistfully if she does not want to have his child. The author really brings out the feeling ot the man in this scene, as he realizes that this woman only wants him for one thing and no more. Usually it is the man who is seen as treating the marital act as only a phyisical encounter rather than intimacy between a man and a woman.

Would I read it again? Probably not, but I would look into some of the other books by this author. ( )
  19vatermit64 | Apr 9, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Unusual. It was interesting, and I did appreciate the setting -- natural and organic. I had no problems with the writing style, so that's great. As the "deposition" of an elder of the tribe, the perspective is unique. He tells the story as one long tale (pauses, but no breaks), with some 'visions' conveniently providing him with knowledge of scenes he could not witness. It's a bittersweet story, because the Bird People are sympathetic, but any contemporary reader will know there lifestyle is doomed. A simple yet important story.

Reviewed for LibraryThing Early Reviewers ( )
  LDVoorberg | Apr 7, 2013 |
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In 1928, Massachusetts water authorities began taking land for the construction of the Quabbin Reservoir, in the Swift River Valley. Unknown to the authorities was the fact that, subsisting in the more remote, forested tracts of the valley, there was a secretive band of mixed-race hunter-gatherers who had been there for over ten generations. Mitchell's book is the story of the exodus of this tribe and the young anthropologist who first discovers them. The novel takes the form of a legal deposition, taken at the Everglades City Court House, in 1929, concerning the fate of these people.
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