People of the Whale: A Novel

People of the Whale: A Novel

4.5 2
by Linda K. Hogan

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A powerful story of a Vietnam veteran torn between his war experience and his Native American community.


A powerful story of a Vietnam veteran torn between his war experience and his Native American community.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In telling a story of the fictional A'atsika, a Native people of the American West Coast who find their mythical origins in the whale and the octopus, Hogan (Mean Spirit) employs just the right touch of spiritualism in this engrossing tale. When Thomas Witka Just succumbs to peer pressure and joins the army, then is sent to Vietnam, Ruth Small is pregnant with his child. In an attempt to prevent an atrocity, Thomas kills fellow soldiers and deserts, ultimately blending into the Vietnamese culture and fathering a child, Lin, by Ma, a village girl. In the meantime, Ruth gives birth to their son, Marco Polo, who is said to have the same mystical whaling powers of Thomas's grandfather. Years later, following Thomas's return, Dwight, a ne'er-do-well friend of Thomas's, arranges for the tribe to kill a whale and to sell the meat to the Japanese, a plan that will draw in Marco Polo and set up a confrontation between the whole ensemble. Despite the plot's multiple strands, the story flows smoothly, and Hogan comes up with a powerful, romantic crescendo. (Aug.)

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Library Journal

In this latest novel from American Book Award® winner and Pulitzer® Prize finalist Hogan (Mean Spirit), a young man returns to his seaside Native American village after the Vietnam War to find his tribe in conflict over the decision to hunt a whale. Hogan's combination of mythic and realistic elements results in a spiritual listening experience, while Audie® Award-winning narrator Stefan Rudnicki's perfectly paced and sonorous diction adds just the right weight. Recommended for public libraries with a demand for Hogan's earlier works. [Audio clip available through]
—Karen Fauls-Traynor

Kirkus Reviews
The latest from Pulitzer Prize finalist Hogan (English/Univ. of Colorado; Power, 1998, etc.) revolves around two Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest as they struggle to reconcile the tribe's time-honored ways with those of the corrupt wider world. Thomas Just and Ruth Small seem destined for each other. His grandfather is Witka, legendary hunter-seer who in times of need disappeared into the depths and "spoke with the whales, entreated them, and asked [ . . . ] if one of them would offer itself to the poor people on land." Ruth, meanwhile, is born with gill slits and kept briefly in a zinc tub so she won't "drown in air." But soon after they're married in a tribal ceremony, Thomas-on a bender with friends-impulsively enlists and ships off to Vietnam, leaving behind not only Ruth but, it turns out, the son she's pregnant with. Horrified by what he witnesses in war, Thomas melts into the landscape of Vietnam, where he lives ten years as a rice farmer, even fathering a daughter. He returns to the States-but not home, not yet. After a sojourn in Hawaii, he hears the tribe is to embark on a whale hunt. Ostensibly a reassertion of traditional values, it's actually a cynical scheme, with the whale oil promised to profiteers; this whale will be not entreated but slaughtered. Thomas takes part in the hunt, during which his estranged son is murdered. (Gifted with some of his great-grandfather's ability, Marco tries to dissuade his fellows from killing a whale too small and timid, and pays with his life.) Thomas withdraws to taciturn solitude in his grandfather's house, and Ruth courageously tries to punish the wrongdoers and uphold the old ways. Hogan excels, early on, in laying out triballore, and the book nicely exemplifies the difficulty of maintaining A'atsika values in a world grown smaller, more venal, more violent. But the abstract, preachy voice palls, and Thomas remains elusive, more symbol than person. Portentous and didactic.

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Linda Hogan was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Mean Spirit. Her other honors include an American Book Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She lives in Tishomingo, Oklahoma.

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People of the Whale 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
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