(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer MAR 16, 2003)
"A Note is all I have from you. I think of it as you despite the formal stationary and wary tone: We have recently been contacted by a young lady whose particulars appear to match your own. It found me here just before Christmas -- a few weeks after my arrest."
Olivia Wyvern went to Tahiti in search of answers, and ended up being arrested for a murder she did not commit. Sitting in the women's prison on this tropical paradise, she has decided to answer this tentative letter from the daughter she gave up at birth with a story, the story of herself, and the story of Jack Henderson, whose life is tied tightly with her own.
It is a story of searching. Olivia's unnamed daughter is searching for her mother, although exactly what she wants with Livvy, we're not quite sure, though we hope for the best. It is the search for the story behind the spear that hung in her mother's house, a huge dark thing that Liv inherited. This story is already found, contained in the journals of Jack Henderson. He tells of his experiences on the high sea with Queen Victoria's sons, Prince Eddy and Prince George, and the sinister and tragic secret that he carried with him ever since. She has photocopied the journals, and now, in the prison, she copies them out for her daughter, interspersing his tale with her own. It is also the search for her own father, who may not have been a casualty of the Korean War. We even touch up against Melville's journeys through these places, as written in his first book, Typee. Everyone is looking for something, in this book, everyone is on a journey.
The man Frank Henderson can be summed up best by this passage:
"They were discussing whether to kill me on the spot. Or perhaps when to kill me. Or how. I have only a smattering of Mandingo and was too tired to parse the grammar, but their gesturing spoke volumes. I told the interpreter to convey to them that I knew very well what they were talking about, that I was too worn out to care, and they should wake me when they'd come to a decision. I then lay down on the ground and fell asleep."
That's one of my favorite sections because it shows a lot about him... Henderson's bravery isn't from being macho, instead he's motivated by common sense. His entries are not overly detailed, because who, when they write a journal, writes with a ton of detail? They have enough detail to make the story run well, to create the atmosphere of the times. They travel the world, and we get to see bits of it, exotic climes that none of us will ever get to see. When we compare Henderson's journey through the islands with Livvy's, we get an wonderful comparison and contrast between the times. I loved the small details, the almost water color quality the images take...which is another interesting parallel between Henderson, Livvy's father and Livvy. They all in their own way create pictures...water colorist, photographer, film maker, they all see things through the same type of eyes, and so when Livvy writes of her experiences, and Henderson of his, there is a tone that they share that makes you realize one of the reasons why Livvy pours over his journals to the point where she has them memorized is that he sees things in a way that she can picture them, and translate them for us.
The book is beautifully done, the twining of the searches with the scenery draws the reader along easily as the people who accompany us reveal the mysteries of their past with frankness and, at least in Olivia's case, hope that she will have something to offer the young woman she's never even held.
- Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Henderson's Spear
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Cut Stones and Crossroads: A Journey of Peru (1984)
- On Fiji Islands (1986) (out-of-print)
- Time Among the Maya: Travels in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico (1989)
- Stolen Continents: 500 Years of Conquest and Resistance in the Americas (1992; January 2005)
- Home and Away (1993)
- A Short History of Progress (March 2005)
- What Is America?: A Short History of the New World Order (September 2008)
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- January Magazine interview with Ronald Wright
- CNN review of Henderson's Spear
- BookPage review of Henderson's Spear
- MyShelf.com review of Henderson's Spear
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About the Author:
Ronald Wright was born in 1948 and educated at Cambridge University. A failed academic, trucker and farmer he has been supported by his pen since 1980. After five non-fiction books, he published his critically acclaimed first novel, A Scientific Romance, which won Britain's David Higham Prize for Fiction and was a New York Times Notable Book. He also reviews often for the Times Literary Supplement (U.K.) and Punch (U.K.). His nonfiction includes Stolen Continents, an award-winning history of the Americas, and Time Among the Maya. He lives in Port Hope, Ontario in Canada.