This strange, disturbing, sometimes exotic book limns an extinct, perhaps deliberately extinguished, bird and warns of nature's reprisal for man's interference. Its early pages describe the bones of marauding men mingled with the bloody feathers of the birds they have killed, only one of whichthe last remaining dodoescapes. This clumsy bird, unable to fly and never seen by the French colonists, kindles the imagination of a schoolteacher, Mr. Fitch, who, despite the uneasy sense that he is tampering with God's plan, gathers the bones scattered around the island. After a triumphant ceremony, he ships the assembled skeleton to England, but plague then breaks out, decimating both the French masters and the Indians they have enslaved. Deep in the forest, these same Indians have built a shrine not only to preserve the gentle bird but also their religious customs, honoring a past for which the colonists have no respect but which they curiously imitate by developing bird cults of their own. The Indians are Everyman, designated by function and not by namethe Uncle, the Captive, the Youth, the Womanand even though the Woman dies, she assures her tribe's continuity by bearing a child and delivering it into the hands of the Uncle. The ambiguity of the bird's existence, the graceful prose, the specter of man's cruelty distinguish a chronicle that poses more questions than it answers. (December)
This marvelously inventive first novel, marred only by a somewhat heavy-handed conclusion, takes a sardonic look at our tendency to explain the unknown by giving it divine status. Set on the island of Mauritius (never explicitly identified), the story centers on the inhabitants' reaction to the discovery of a marsh filled with the bones of the extinct (or so everyone thinks), almost mythological dodo. The dodo's ``resurrection'' deeply affects everyonefrom Mr. Finch, the English schoolteacher whose obsessive quest after the bird threatens his traditional beliefs, to the recently freed slaves who form bird cults. A cholera epidemic following the departure of a set of bones to England is seen as divine retribution and sparks even greater social and political upheaval. It all causes one to wonder who the real dodos are. Sure to raise some readers' hackles, it is nonetheless highly recommended. David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.