Ajk's Reviews > Manituana

Manituana by Wu  Ming
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Nov 27, 2011

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bookshelves: fiction
Recommended for: Folks who want a different look at the American Revolution.
Read in January, 2010

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."
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