Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ood-Le-Uk the Wanderer, by Alice Alison Lide and Margaret Alison Johansen

5/26/11 10:10AM I don't usually blog books in segments, but I've started reading this one and I can tell already that I'm going to have a lot to say about it. I'm only on page 8 (text begins on 3) and my the-authors-know-nothing-of-this-culture sirens are going off.

Ood-le-uk is an Eskimo boy in Alaska, and the beginning of the tale finds him in the midst of a whale hunt with his cousin and other men of the community. He's not a brave child and dreads the endurance required for such a task. We learn the following about him:
But as though to compensate the small, runty, fur-clad youngster for his timidity, Nature had made a strange gift to Ood-le-uk. She had presented him with an imagination, a thing Eskimos are not given to possessing.
Ood-le-uk has also found himself enchanted with the small items which have drifted in with the tide from other cultures, stimulating his imagination and igniting longings for . . . well, just longings. He can't picture what lies on the other side because "his was so narrow a world". Over time, a Siberian axe-head buried in a log, an ivory knife blade, a bit of beaded leather, and now, a small wooden case have all come his way, but he is forced to hide his fascination with his treasures because his compatriots mock him for thrilling to a "something one could not eat".

Can you see why I'm seriously taking issue with this book already? I'll be the first to admit that my knowledge of indigenous cultures is vastly lacking. However, even I know that the Inuit/Yukip (Ood-le-uk is most likely Yukip but I can't say for certain) have a culture rich in both storytelling and hand-crafted art. NOT impressed so far, Lide and Johansen. If I weren't reading this for the blog I'd probably stop here and hope that no one whose offense would be more justified than mine will pick the book up next.

Ok, finished the book up this morning. After the authors were finished completely demeaning this culture, the book got reasonably interesting. It's full of arctic tundra and man-versus-beast kinds of adventures. Ood-le-uk eventually gets set adrift and finds himself in the midst of another primitive culture in Asia. They initially want to sacrifice him, but find the "talisman" he is wearing (a cross necklace found inside the box that washed up on shore) marks him (unbeknownst to him) as a Christian, so he is saved. A missionary has recently made inroads with this new culture, the Tschuktschi of Siberia, and they recognize the cross as a token given to new converts upon baptism. Ood-le-uk settles among these people for some time, learning their language and culture, and how they keep and care for their reindeer. He and a friend are able to make their way back to Ood-le-uk's home after several years abroad, bringing with them a number of goods from overseas. This establishes the first trade between their two peoples.

I can imagine some little boys would like this book for the prehistoric Arctic action scenes, but really, it's nothing that hasn't been done better in other books. I wish I could find some insight into these two authors that would tell me something about what makes them feel qualified to do this sort of thing, but all I could find is that they did it prolifically, co-authoring other novels such as "Thord Firetooth", "Lapland Drum", "Pearls of Fortune", "The Wooden Locket", "The Secret Circle" and "Dark Possession", and two solo efforts, "Inemak, the Little Greenlander" and "Hawk of Hawk Clan" respectively.

Do yourself a favor and skip this one.

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