Having been bowled over by ’54’ from the four writers who make up the Italian collective known as Wu Ming, a book which weaves a tale around the defeats and compromises of post-war Italian politics via a supporting cast including Cary Grant, Lucky Luciano and Tito, I was keen to get my hands on the English translation of their latest, Manituana.
As ambitious in scope as their earlier novels, expertly translated by Shaun Whiteside, Manituana concerns itself with a period of history I was shamefully ignorant of until reading this novel, the bloody birth of the United States and the unravelling of alliances between the British Empire, its colonists and the Six Nations of the Iroquois.
Again weaving the histories of real people – such as the Mohawk war chief Joseph Brant and his supernaturally gifted sister Molly – into those of an array of allies and enemies, Manituana moves from the ancient forests of America through dank and dangerous London streets to Westminster audiences with British Royalty, before returning to the land so filled with opportunity that it seems it cannot be left in the control of its original owners for long.
‘Fire gives life, and yet it consumes’, remarks Joseph Brant’s friend and ally Philip Lacroix, and those who set the fire are not always saved from the flames. As war becomes inevitable, no side escapes unharmed, atrocities and betrayals are met with fierce reprisals until the soil of the new country runs red. No hand remains unstained. The parallels between this beginning and more recent episodes of nation-building by Americans in Iraq have been commented upon by the writers. Promising to be the first of a trilogy of books to explore this neglected or airbrushed period of history, Manituana manages, despite achieving its epic ambitions, to be a fast-paced and entertaining read, one not to be missed.
Now the only thing to do is to see if I can wait patiently for the next part.