Reading this searing, strangely beautiful historical novel is a transformative experience. It centers on the Alacalufs, an actual tribe of short, bowlegged sea nomadsnow extinctwho eked out a living off Tierra del Fuego at the southernmost tip of South America. Hunting albatrosses and cormorants, living in wigwams, sniffing out williwaws or violent winds, the Alacalufs (who called themselves Kaweskar, "the People") might have continued their peaceful lifestyle,had it not been for European intruders. French ethnologist Raspail first delineates fictional Lafko, the last surviving Kaweskar, and his family, then shuttles back and forth as Magellan, King Philip, Catholic missionaries and a highly unsympathetic Charles Darwin all take part in the story of this tribe's doom. In the late 1800s captive Alacalufs were exhibited as fairground freaks in France. In exposing the cruelty and racist ethnocentrism of white Europeans, Raspail shows that they, not the Alacalufs, were the "savages." Winner of three French prizes, this fiercely eloquent, heartbreaking novel is emblematic of Europe's conquest/discovery of America.