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The Old American
A Novel
Ernest Hebert

Hardscrabble Books–Fiction of New England

2000 • 304 pp. 5 1/2 x 8 1/2"
Fiction & Literature / Native American Studies

$16.95 Paperback, 978-1-58465-213-7
$9.99 Ebook, 978-1-61168-360-8

Check your ebook retailer or local library for ebook availability.

“A] deeply appealing novel . . . A painstakingly researched and beautifully developed reconstruction of life on the New England/Canadian frontier . . . Ernest Hebert somehow manages to capture both the strangeness and the... [continued in Reviews below]”—Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered

A long-awaited new novel set in the period of the French and Indian Wars brings a new dimension to the region’s history

In 1746, Nathan Blake, the first frame house builder in Keene, New Hampshire, was abducted by Algonkians and held in Canada as a slave. Inspired by this dramatic slice of history, novelist Ernest Hebert has written a masterful new novel recreating those years of captivity.

Set in New England and Canada during the French and Indian Wars, The Old American is driven by its complex, vividly imagined title character, Caucus-Meteor. By turns shrewd and embittered, ambitious and despairing, inspired and tormented, he is the self-styled "king" of the remnants of the first native tribes that encountered the English. Displaced and ravaged by disease, these refugees have been forced to bargain for land in Canada on which to live. Having hired himself out as interpreter to a raiding party of French and Iroquois, Caucus-Meteor returns from New Hampshire the unexpected possessor of a captive, Nathan Blake.

He decides to bring the Englishman to his own village rather than sell him to the French. Ambivalent about his former life, Blake gradually fits into the routine of Conissadawaga. Meanwhile, Caucus-Meteor struggles to protect his people from the rapacious French governor. Constantly plotting and maneuvering, burdened by responsibility, the Old American exhibits cunning and courage. A gifted linguist who was forbidden to learn to read or write; a former slave who is now a king; a native leader who has seen more of London and Paris than his English captive, who knows more of European politics than the French colonial administrators, Caucus-Meteor is a brilliant, cantankerous, visionary figure whom readers will long remember.

To learn more about Ernest Hebert and his writing visit his website here.

Reviews / Endorsements

“[A] deeply appealing novel . . . A painstakingly researched and beautifully developed reconstruction of life on the New England/Canadian frontier . . . Ernest Hebert somehow manages to capture both the strangeness and the universality of [Caucus-Meteor’s] mind and heart . . . The novelist has found a perfect foundation on which to build a replica of a world long since lost to all of us newer Americans.”—Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered

“Grounded in a fine historical sensibility and sympathetic imagination . . . Caucus-Meteor . . . is magnificently alive—he is funny and brooding, by turns practical and maudlin . . . and he is slyly disrespectful of all received wisdom and the hypocrisies of European civilization in America.”—The New York Times Book Review

“The current resurgence of American historical fiction (Cold Mountain, Cloudsplitter, The Gates of the Alamo) reaches something very like an apex here, the first fiction in seven years from the critically acclaimed author of the Darby quintet . . . The narrative’s based on a true story, of the captivity of New England house-builder and farmer Nathan Blake during the French and Indian Wars. The stunning wrinkle Hebert adds is his creation of Algonkian tribal ‘king’ Caucus-Meteor . . . The bulk of the tale focuses on the wary, increasingly respectful, eventually loving relationship between these two utterly different (and beautifully realized) characters . . . The leisurely plot allows room for dozens of lavishly detailed descriptions of woodcraft and work, landscape and folkways, all the while building a devastating picture of conflict and change bringing an ancient way of living to the brink of extinction . . . A brilliant work, destined to be one of the great American historical novels.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Hebert’s powerful tale resonates with the honor and dignity of its protagonists . . . Caucus-Meteor’s poignant remembrances provide rich details of the culture and customs of the Canadian Indians. A description of the ritual of the gauntlet, a ceremony all slaves must endure, is physically brutal, yet beautiful in its psychological complexity. The integrity of Hebert’s work is one of its most salient characteristics.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Among the first American bestsellers were the 'captivity narratives' — part adventure stories, part morality tales — that gave accounts of the capture of Colonial settlers by Native Americans . . . Ernest Hebert's The Old American stands firmly in this near-forgotten tradition. It is a great story, convincingly and colorfully told . . . [Hebert's] accomplishment in The Old American is to have written about the people on both sides of the frontier conflict with the benefit of contemporary insights into the relationships between captives and captors (relationships frequently seen in hostage situations) without losing a sense of the historical time and place . . . It is part of Hebert's accomplishment that his insight into the thinking of his Indian characters at a time of cultural transition is generally credible . . . The Old American is an admirable book and deserves a place among the classic tales based on the frontier captive experience.”—
Boston Globe

“A comic adventure with echoes of 'King Lear' . . . the themes recall Hebert's longstanding fascination with the mysterious obligations of kinship . . . Caucus-Meteor is a magnificant creation . . . The Old American is history, antropology, adventure, comedy, and romance. It is a contrary-minded meditation on the pleasures of slavery and the burdens of kingship. It is, to my mind, the best work so far of one of New England's best writers.”—

“A thought-provoking story . . . This reviewer has never read a more poignant or moving account of the loss and change experienced by native North Americans during the Colonial period. This is not an action-adventure tale but rather an intellectually complex portrait of the struggle created by cultural change and an examination of the essence of what it meant to be 'American' . . . [Readers] wanting a moving, intelligent view of our past should look nowhere else. Recommended for serious fiction readers.”—
Library Journal

“[Hebert] makes a wonderful leap back in time in this new book — and a good leap forward in terms of craft and accomplishment . . . Caucus-Meteor seems an anomalous creation, as much a character out of Henry James as James Fenimore Cooper. He's a wily political genius whose knowledge of languages and the wisdom he has acquired over the years have won him the leadership of a rag-tag group of refugees from various New England tribes . . . Writing this wonderful novel was certainly the right thing to do. Reading it is just as right.”—
Chicago Tribune

The Old American is a great novel about what it means to be an Indian, and an even greater novel about what it means to be human. Funny, dramatic, beautifully written, and eternally surprising, it is a master-work from a fiction writer as accomplished and insightful as any at work in this country today.”—Howard Frank Mosher

“I am delighted with The Old American. The author both knows his history and knows our Native cultures. I’ve rarely read a book which does a better job than this does in presenting the intellectuality and the humor of Native people in the colonial period.”—Joseph Bruchac

Author Photo

ERNEST HEBERT teaches writing at Dartmouth College, where he is Associate Professor of English. UPNE has reissued four books from his "Darby" series, including Live Free or Die and The Dogs of March, about which New York Times Book Review wrote, "The book rises or falls on the strength of Howard Elman, and this man could hold up a house. By turns tormented, funny, poignant and appalling, he lodges in the memory."

Thu, 14 Mar 2019 13:07:45 -0500