The Children of First Man

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9780345370051: The Children of First Man

Three hundred years before Columbus, a Welsh Prince named Madoc -- an invincible blond giant of a man -- crossed the Atlantic with a fleet of wooden boats to plant a colony in the paradise he called Iarghal. Four countless generations, Prince Madoc's blue-eyed descendants migrated along the great waterways of the primeval New World, mingling their blood, their legends, and their dreams with the native peoples. This is their story.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

Thom's sweeping, ambitious historical novel describes the origins and journey of a lost white Indian tribe. Disillusioned with a homeland torn apart by familial power struggles, the Welsh prince Madoc, a blond giant, sets out with a fleet of ships in 1169 to start a colony across the ocean in the new land he calls Iarghal. Upon arrival, the Welsh settlers begin to interbreed with the native peoples while subjugating them. Generations later, neighboring Indian tribes band together and revolt against Welsh injustices. Only a few natives of mixed heritage escape the ensuing slaughter; they go on to found the Mandan nation, a tribe living near the Ohio River whose members are marked by their wheat-colored hair and blue or gray eyes. Thom (Follow the River, not reviewed) is wholly convincing as he depicts the history of Welsh settlement being distorted down through the ages, so that by the time Lewis and Clark make contact with the Mandan in 1804, the Welsh origins of their legends and traditions have been lost, even though one white sympathizer recognizes in the Mandan tongue a few Welsh words. Thom's well-meaning eagerness to depict Native American nobility often leads to an overly romanticized portrait; generation after generation, they seem impervious to any moral failing (in stark and too obvious contrast to each wave of European explorers, from the Welsh to DeSoto's Spaniards to early 19th-century French traders), and after a while the Indian characters begin to seem stultifying in their sameness. The female players are often weak victims and fade altogether from importance at the end of the novel. Nonetheless, a well-researched and intriguing, if somewhat idealized, fictional portrait of a legendary lost people. (First printing of 75,000; author tour) -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Booklist:

A highly imaginative novel that combines an old legend with historical fact to create an epic tale of America starting some 300 years before Columbus arrived. Thom uses a long-discussed legend of Welshmen who traveled to the far-off land of Iarghal (the North American continent) during the twelfth century A.D. Here, despite overwhelming odds, Welsh chieftain Madoc builds a society by interbreeding his people with the local native tribes. The book then skips ahead in 70- to 80-year increments, describing the eventual assimilation and northern migration of the tribal descendants, recognizable as Welsh by their facial features and blond hair. All this is bookended by researcher George Catlin, a portrait artist who befriends the tribe, now called the Mandans, in the mid-nineteenth century. There are epic battles among the Welsh and the Native Americans and between the tribes themselves, as well as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and diseases; the sex is bawdy and the violence is unrelentingly bloody, but the individual human spirit shines through. Thom's use of the language is masterful, with early chapters featuring Madoc by using flowery, age-of-chivalry prose; later, the tales of the evolving Native American tribes are told in simple, almost childlike sentences that reflect their primitive but proud nature. Finally, the appearance of later explorers like DeSoto and Lewis and Clark is done in traditional style. A terrifically entertaining novel, particularly in dealing with the advance of white society from the Native American viewpoint. Joe Collins

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