Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Review: A Red Woman Was Crying

Read 9/3/14 - 9/11/14
3 Stars - Recommended to fans of interconnected stories / stories that take place in a foreign setting, told from a foreign perspective
Pages: 266
Publisher: Saddle Road Press
Released: 2013

An American eco-anthropologist relocates himself to the Bougainville Island in the 1960's with the intent of studying the group of native Nagovisi there. Instead, he finds himself becoming an active member of their tribe, viewed as student and fellow clan-member, and the subject of the Nagovisi's own curiosities.

Based on the real life research of author Don Mitchell, these fictional narrations closely mirror the interactions and experiences Don had with the Nagovisi people. But there's a twist. The narratives are written from the Nagovisi point of view. Natural born story tellers and teachers, the tribe members each get an opportunity to share their thoughts and conversations with Elliott - our fictional anthropologist protagonist - as well as dishing up the dirt on some of their local legends. It's a clever spin on the short story with each story containing a vivid, colorful peek into their fears, uncertainties, and willingness, though not without wariness, in accepting a white man into their lives. And through these stories, the reader is then able to piece together just who this Elliott character is.

This collection of "Stories from Nagovisi", unlike anything I've read before and not likely to match anything I'll read going forward, is both sensitive and emotionally jarring. The writing is simple and beautific, perfectly complimenting what life in the bush must have been like back then. Clan members sit in their "cookhouses" and chew betel to pass the time. They teach Elliott their ways and immerse him in their daily chores. But this collection is also harsh, direct, and unpredictable, as is the culture of those who are narrating. Dogs are trained to dislike different races and are killed without a second thought when they misbehave. Each clan operates under its own rules and laws. Trust is hard to come by and when the clan feels threatened, it's leader, Mesiamo, will lay false blame to control the threat, which results in fighting and unchecked murder, all of which is forgiven once each side "becomes even".

Sparse and extremely straight forward, A Red Woman Was Crying breaks down the barriers and allows its readers to get directly into the heads of the Nagovisi; no holds barred, no punches pulled. The subtle beauty of a foreign way of life shines through in Don's capable hands.

*This book will be featured in an upcoming TNBBC Author/Reader Discussion: the giveaway will be held during the first week of December, with the week-long discussion taking place in mid-January. Details will be released as we get closer to the giveaway date.

*My review is in no way colored by the fact that we've selected this title for the discussion series. 


  1. Thanks for this thoughtful and beautiful review of one of my favorite novels. Don Mitchell is a master storyteller. Yes, it is a collection of stories, but it is more than that -- this stories do weave together into a complete novel, giving us a stunning central protagonist, and portraying "the other" in a wonderfully unique way. So glad that this is being brought forward to the Good Reads audience!

  2. I LOVED this book! I was completely fascinated by these people in a small village on a distant island, a completely different world from mine, and the hint of a love story emerging which I hope the author will write about in the novel he says he's writing about these people.