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Song of the River

Song of the River

4.5 4
by Sue Harrison

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From the acclaimed, bestselling author of Mother Earth Father Sky comes an extraordinary new novel of courage and human conflict in a prehistoric wilderness of ice and snow.

Eighty centuries before our time -- in the frozen interior of a place that would someday be called Alaska -- a clubfooted babe was left


From the acclaimed, bestselling author of Mother Earth Father Sky comes an extraordinary new novel of courage and human conflict in a prehistoric wilderness of ice and snow.

Eighty centuries before our time -- in the frozen interior of a place that would someday be called Alaska -- a clubfooted babe was left in the snow to die...until he was rescued by a young woman ravaged by her enemies and sworn to vengeance.

Twenty years later, the child, called Chakliux, has grown to manhood and occupies an honored place as his tribe's treasured storyteller, while his adoptive mother K'os has grown cunning and cold. But in the neighboring village of the Near River People -- where he has been sent to make peace by wedding the shaman's daughter -- a shocking double murder occurs that sets Chakliux on a remarkable journey. Driven by the ancient songs of sea and sky, earth and animals, the storyteller traverses a harsh, unknown, yet enthralling landscape in search of the strange truth about the offenses for which his people have suffered...and about the hateful, ambitious woman who raised him, who may be his most dangerous enemy of all.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
No static diorama of prehistoric Alaskan life, Harrison's (Brother Wind) engrossing fourth novel, set among the ancient Aleuts, is a complex psychological and sociological epic. Then as now, nature's ice and snow are benign compared to the devastating effects of human nature. The reverence that the ancients accord to animals (placing a gift in the mouth of a freshly killed fox, for example) contrasts sharply with the commonplace rapes, mutilations and murders that they inflict on one another. At the center of the story is Chakliux, a Near River baby abandoned by his mother and adopted by K'os, a Cousin River woman, who sees a good omen in his clubbed foot. K'os finds Chakliux shortly after she has been brutally raped by three Near River men: she is convinced (because of his "otter-like" foot) that he is a gift from the animals sent to restore her powers so that she can take revenge. Two decades later, Near River elders unknowingly send Chakliux, who has grown into a great storyteller, back to his birth tribe in order to negotiate a peace which K'os schemes to undermine. Young Near River people, also itching for war, frame Chakliux in a mysterious double murder and the death of many hunting dogs, spurring him to undertake an arduous journey in search of the truth. Violent as that truth is, Harrison witholds it successfully until the end of the story and makes it seem authentic to this primitive, vengeful time and place. 50,000 first printing; author tour. (Nov.)
Kirkus Reviews
As in Brother Wind (1994) and others, Harrison once again displays her first-rate storytelling talents, here in a rousing tale of murder, revenge, and internecine warfare.

The stunning backdrop this time consists of the coast and interior of what is now Alaska in the far, far mists of the seventh century b.c. was home of the Aleut peoples. Chakliux, the Dzuuggi (a favored child trained in oral traditions), was born to a woman of the Near River Village and as a newborn put out to die because of a deformed foot. He was found by K'os, a fiery, bitter young woman of the Cousin River people, and raised by her. Eventually, Chakliux returns to Near River, but the anger of K'os, bent on a savage revenge upon those who have wronged her (and out of pure meanness to hurt those who haven't), brings ruin to the efforts of Chakliux, a wise and gentle man, who's determined to bring peace among the villages. Then in Near River, Daes, mother of a young boy by the trader Cen, is mysteriously murdered, as is Chakliux's old grandfather. And why are the village dogs dying? Bad feeling swirls around Chakliux, who travels to the wise Cloud Finder of Cousin River to acquire the strong "golden-eyed" dogs. But Cloud Finder is killed by warriors egged on by K'os. Finally, Chakliux and his often untrustworthy brother Sok travel to other villages. In the First Men Village is Aqamdax, a trained storyteller, daughter of Daes. She'll be betrayed by Sok, accused of murder by the Walrus Hunters, and wind up as a slave to vicious K'os before escaping to a difficult marriage. At the close, murders of people (and dogs) are solved as war rumbles, though the good guys form a new village—with two storytellers and a dog named Biter.

A warm yarn from the frozen North and as authentic as all get- out, with maps, glossary, author's clarifying notes—the works.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt

Late Fall, 6,480 B.C.
West of the Grandfather Lake
(present-day Illiamna Lake, Alaska)

The pain had been terrible, but that was not what K'os remembered. She remembered her helplessness.

She had fought—scratched, kicked, bit the lobe off one man's ear, gouged another's eye.

She knew their names: Gull Wing, Fox Barking and Sleeps Long. They had come from the Near River Village to trade. Fox Barking had the narrow eyes of a man who lied, and Sleeps Long moved slowly, like someone accustomed to laziness, but Gull Wing carried himself like a hunter. K'os had watched him that evening in her mother's lodge, had smiled if he looked her way.

The next morning she had followed them to the Grandfather Lake, had hidden behind the Grandfather Rock. That rock was a good luck place for women. Those who were pregnant went there to sit, hoping that magic would pass through the rock into the children who waited in their wombs. They spoke their hopes out loud: for a son who was a hunter, for a daughter who would look after her parents when they were old, for an easy birth.

The animals knew the goodness of that place. Caribou, lynx, bear came to drink. Muskrats made their lodges along the banks of the outlet rivers that flowed to the North Sea. In summers there were birds—mergansers, grebes, loons. In winter, the lake was a fine place to catch blackfish, those small soft fish, good eaten raw, full of oil. Just a few would fill a winter belly longing for fat.

It was a difficult walk from their village to the Grandfather Lake, through swamp and muskeg, over tussocks of old grass that stood knee-high above the ground. Hard towalk between, those tussocks were, and treacherous to the ankles of anyone who decided to walk across the tops. Women who went to the Grandfather Lake worked hard to get there. The good luck was worth their effort.

But today it had not been a place of good luck for K'os.

Now, sick and bloody from the struggle, she skirted her village instead of walking through it. Lodge entrances faced east toward the morning sun. She approached her mother's lodge from the back, from the refuse heaps. She pulled the hood of her ground squirrel parka up over her head, drew her face inside the wolverine fur ruff.

She pushed aside the doorflap, crawled through the entrance tunnel. The lodge was large: three tall men could sleep head to toe across the floor, and still a woman had room to walk between them and the lodge wall. River rocks, worn smooth by water, had been brought to the winter village long ago, perhaps by her grandfather or his father, enough to circle the walls of the floor pit that had been dug several handlengths into the ground. Lodge poles, tied in a wide dome above the floor, were covered by two layers of caribou skin to keep the wind from stealing the warmth of the wood fire.

The caribou hide walls were well-sewn, the floor padded with caribou skins, the bedding made of soft warm furs—wolf and lynx and fox.

Her mother, Mink, sighed her relief when she saw K'os, but only said, "You have been gone too long."

K'os had expected more of a scolding than that. Her mother's smiling mouth hid a sharp tongue.

"I told you I was going to the Grandfather Rock," K'os answered. Her words sounded strange to her, as though they came from another woman's mouth. She raised a hand to her face. Her lips felt the same, her nose, her eyes. She stayed where she was, careful to keep her eyes averted from her father's weapons. Blood was blood. Though her flow was not a regular moon flow, it might carry enough power to curse her father's spears and knives, gaffs and hooks.

"Where are the roots?"

K'os inhaled—a quick, gasping breath. She had told her mother that she was going to the Grandfather Lake to gather spruce roots. The black spruce that grew in the dark wet muck on the west side of the lake had long, rope-like roots, strong yet easy to split. She had taken one of her mother's favorite baskets to carry them. She must have left the basket there, after the men found her.

"I don't have them," K'os answered.

"You don't have them? Where are they?"

K'os heard the hard edge in her mother's voice, and she almost told her what had happened. Why keep such a problem to herself? Let her mother and father share her pain. But her mother's tongue was not only sharp, it was busy. Soon every woman in the village would know. Not only the women but the men. Then who would want K'os as wife?

"I started my bleeding," K'os said. "Just when the basket was al most full. I did not know what to do with the roots. I was afraid too much of my moon blood power was in them, so I left them. I know where the basket is. I hid it. If you say the roots are good, I will go back for them. If not, I will leave them."

Her mother began to complain, but her father said, "It was wise, what she did. Leave her alone. What if you used those roots to sew a sael, and later some hunter ate from it? She can go back for the basket when she is done with moon blood."

He frowned at K'os, then jutted his chin toward her face. "You need water. There is blood on your cheek."

Again K'os lifted her hand, touched her face.

She was a beautiful woman, so everyone said, and she had found it was good to be beautiful. There was power in it. You could lie your way out of trouble. You could ask for things, and they would be given to you.

Her beauty was something she often pondered. What was it? A spacing of the eyes? A straight nose; lips, not too small or too large? Shining hair. Was there something else, something that had to do with luck? Surely today she lost whatever luck she had.

She looked at her mother. "I fell," she said.

"The tussocks," said her mother and shook her head. "I told you not to go."

"You were right," K'os told her.

Mink tilted her head toward the side of the lodge where stacks of bundled pelts and skins awaited sewing. "There is enough to keep you busy," she said. "And I will tell my sister to bring your little cousin Gguzaakk to the tikiyaasde. There is room for both of you there. You can watch her while we work."

K'os did not like Gguzaakk. The child had only two summers; she was whiny and climbed into everything. But K'os nodded. Yes, while she was in the menstruation hut, she would care for Gguzaakk. And this time Gguzaakk's mother would have no complaints.

Mink brought her a birchbark cilt'ogho of water. K'os reached for it. There was blood, dried and caked, on the palm of her hand. Mink, looking hard into her daughter's face, did not notice.

"Your jaw and eye, too," she said to K'os, and pressed her hand against her own face. "Bruises."

K'os sat down. She covered her mouth to stifle a groan. Any movement hurt. The pain had slowed her pace during her journey back to the village, and she had been afraid she would not get to her mother's lodge before darkness came. Then what chance would she have—alone and with her luck gone?

The men had hit her hard enough to knock her spirit out of her body, so she did not know everything they had done to her. As she walked that long path back from the Grandfather Lake, it felt as though her belly had nothing to hold it in, so she was sure they had torn something inside. When she urinated, she urinated blood.

She dipped her hand into the sael. They had been foolish, those three men, to lie there, all of them, in the grasses around the Grand father Rock while she was still alive. They must have thought she was dead, or at least that she would not awaken for a long time.

She had lain there and listened to them, to their boasts, first about what they had done to her, then about other women they had used. They were going to take her again, they decided, then they would leave, return to the Near River Village, to their wives and children.

They had pushed K'os's parka up, baring her belly and breasts, but had not bothered to take it off. Instead they had pulled the hood forward over her face and stuffed a portion of the ruff into her mouth, pressed the fur into her throat until it took all her effort just to breathe. They had found the women's knife sheathed at her waist, but not the blade hidden on her left forearm, strapped under her parka sleeve.

That knife was a gift from one of her older brothers. He had given it to her before he left to go live with his wife's family at the Four Rivers Village—a man's knife to protect her, because all her brothers lived in other villages with their wives.

K'os had gripped the sleeve knife with both hands and rolled off the rock, the blade out-thrust between her breasts, her fists grasping the haft and pressed tightly to her chest. Gull Wing had been lying next to the rock. She landed on him, drove the knife into his heart before he could react. She pulled it out and thrust it into one of his I eyes, then into his neck. His gurgling cries brought the other men to jump to their feet, and K'os took the knife from Gull Wing's throat, held the blade out toward them.

"Which one do I kill next?" she asked, as she sat astride Gull Wing, the man shuddering in death throes beneath her. She dipped her finger in Gull Wing's blood, sucked her finger clean. She expected them to attack. They turned and ran. She struggled to her feet, groaning as her belly churned and fell.

Then she also ran, away from the lake, away from the rock, away from the dead Gull Wing.

Falling and running, falling and running, she did not stop until , blood flowed like a river from between her legs. Then she hid in a clump of willow and stuffed her vagina full of moss and leaves, packing them in to stop the blood.

She stayed there, like an animal, wounded. At first she had been afraid they would find her, afraid she would die, but later she feared she would not die, ruined as she was.

Finally she had decided to continue toward the village, but when she stood, her feet would not move that way. Instead, they turned toward the Grandfather Lake. Instead, they walked her back to Gull Wing's body.

There she cut out Gull Wing's heart and gave it as gift to the Grandfather Rock.

Copyright ) 1997 by Sue Harrison

Meet the Author

Sue Harrison is the author of five previous novels: Mother Earth Father Sky, My Sitter the Moon, Brother Wind, Song of the River, and Cry of the Wind. Prior to the publication of her first novel, she taught creative writing at Lake Superior State University. She and her husband, Neil, live in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. They have two children.

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Song of the River 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought that Ms. Harrison did a wonderful job to capture her audience in this page turner. She not only has a good mystery but a thought provoking novel of survival.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is filled with adventure, love, and the tale of one man's journey towards his destiny. I love the way the writer seemed to bring the story to life. This is a good book for anyone who likes a page turner and a passion for historical fiction.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought the book, song of the river, was an excellent adventure.I couldnt put the book down.I am a picky person about books and this one caught my eye. 5 stars .
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although Harrison still manages to captivate audiences, she has turned to unnecessary storytelling methods such as shock value and vulgarity in her writing. The stories have become less about epic journeys and intricate plots to being more about whom is sleeping with whom and murder