zaterdag 7 mei 2016

"The Revenant" by Michael Punke

“He would crawl until his body could support a crutch. If he only made three miles a day, so be it. Better to have those three miles behind him than ahead.”

The history of the Old West is full of stories about survival against all odds, which have been, rightly or wrongly, presented as true stories. Hugh Glass's is arguably one of the most famous, and has formed the basis for several books and films. Most recently, it won Leonardo diCaprio his first Oscar for his starring role in the movie "The Revenant", an adaptation of the novel by Michael Punke.

It is 1823, a time when the American West is opening and scores of people are journeying westward to find fortune in the vast, unexplored expanse of the American wilderness. While scouting for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, Hugh Glass is attacked by a grizzly bear and severely wounded. Not expected to survive, he is left in the care of two volunteers, while the rest of the group travels on. When the two feel threatened by an approaching group of hostile Indians, they leave Glass behind, taking all his possessions. Against all the odds, Glass survives and he makes his way back with only one thing in mind: revenge on the two men who left him helpless. But before he can have his revenge, he will have to survive even more dangers: packs of wolves, deadly Indians, incredibly harsh weather conditions and the merciless wilderness.

Michael Punke mainly writes non-fiction, and this shows in the sometimes dry passages in which he describes the backgrounds of the characters. This makes the novel appear an actual account of the events, which is not completely true. Punke clearly did extensive research, but he did have to add lots of fictional elements, as the full story of Glass's ordeals is lost to history and the legend that was handed down from generation to generation, clearly had a lot of exaggerations added to it. It is fiction, after all, but that doesn't take anything away from the story. One caveat: when writing about Indians, Punke still uses words like 'braves' and 'squaw', common words in old westerns, but which aren't used today when talking with respect about Native Americans. The portrayal of Indians is also -at best- a bit stereotypical. Apart from that, though, this is a well-written novel which tells a fantastic story.

Title: The Revenant
Author: Michael Punke
Publisher: Borough Press, London
Year: 2015 (orig. 2002)
Number of pages: 308 p.
ISBN: 9780007521326

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