Saturday, January 2, 2010

Book Review: Manituana by Wu Ming

This book review has nothing to do with Islam, Central Asia, Energy, Design, or anything else this blog is purportedly about. But since I've kind of always wanted a list of the boks I've read, I figured I ought to put this one down.

I'm on the West Coast and Gjetost winter break tour, going from Los Angeles to Portland to Seattle, and I needed a sufficiently thick book to get me through it. And because I absolutely loved Q, a story of revolution and spies and general intrigue during the Catholic Reformation I decided to go dip into the Wu Ming well once again. I couldn't imagine anything going wrong with a 5-man Italian Anarchist Collective. But the one I chose, Manituana, was sort of, well, off.

First of all, I'll have to remember that now that I have free printing, I'll have to start just printing my books from their website instead of paying for them. That's kind of key for all of you folks out there with access to university computer labs, as well.

Second of all, leave it to Italians to write about the American Revolution. And sure, it's interesting to see a book where the Americans are the bad guys, Wu Ming could've done a better job with it. The basic plot line is that Joseph Brant must muster his Iroquois to serve the British and protect native lands from the encroaching rebels. In it, we're introduced to a lot of characters from Revolutionary War history I forgot about, being not from New York and not as much of a nerd, relatively. The New York German Protestant God-fearing Rebels are the bad guys, and they are a lot more interesting than Brant.

Brant gets his Noble Savage on, though he does do a lot of really bad things, its pretty clear that the Americans do, too. But the whole "protecting our native lands" is thin, in a way: it seemed to me that the writers never really understood the natives that much, although the half-Indian, half-British Peter Johnson is perhaps the most interesting character in the book. Otherwise, the Indians are bold, the women are nubile, and the religious folks are roundly evil (again, this is written by Anarchists).

I guess I was just expecting more. I loved Q's sense of place in the Reformation, and the main character's sense of huntedness and hauntedness. He was interesting to follow around Europe stopping the Papists. Here, we just have the sullen and stoic Brant. I suppose it was supposed to be a screed on the formation of America, but then I wish Wu Ming went more into the religious foundations of the US. Or how regional the conflict was, with Bostoners fighting for one thing, New Yorkers for another, and Carolinians for a third. If Manituana was supposed to be an expository on how nasty and destructive civil war can be, like Q was, then, well, it's overshadowed by folks who are much better at that.

It's not bad airplane reading. It has a quick pace, lots of battle scenes, and is generally as light and readable as something about the extermination of a nation can be. I'll read more of Wu Ming at some point, but probably not for a while. But it is hardly the most impactful book I've ever read. Maybe Revolutionary War buffs or people who hate Imperialism more than me (or the middle of the Venn Diagram connecting those two) would get more out of it. But it's certainly nothing earth-shattering.

But apparently, according to the UK's Independent, Manituana is a great Christmas gift. I guess it's good for that uncle of yours or something. And also apparently, Wu Ming is crowdsourcing the creation and upkeep of the fictituous world of the book, which is a kinda cool concept (Wu Ming is big on kinda cool concepts, as seen in this quote: "We have hallucinations, sort of. Historical research is like peyote to us. After we recover from all the shocks and flashes, we start to write."

And finally, they just came out with a book called Altai. I don't know Italian, but I do see pictures. And I do know what Altai Daglari are. So yeah, I'm excited.

No comments:

Post a Comment