Friday, October 30, 2009

Manituana by Wu Ming (Verso)

History is made by the vanquishers, while the vanquished are left to struggle for their stories to be told. Manituana by the Wu Ming collective concerns Native Americans, specifically the Six Nations of the Iroquois before and during the American war of independence. Celebrating their tragic role during that period, Manituana depicts a people thrown into a cauldron of violence of a kind that might make Cormac McCarthy gasp. Concerning real personages, their story and struggle, it also says a lot about the roots of American colonialism. Wu Ming relates the Iroqois' belief that they were better off serving the King than the colonists- better one King two thousand miles away than 2000 kings a mile away- so certain were they that the latter would steal their land. But this is no heroic tale in reverse. Manituana contains no real heroes, but a situation in which everyone is compromised, and ultimately broken. This is an extraordinary novel, well-researched and heartbreaking, that has clear parallels with the war in Iraq, and the pitting of "good" Muslims against "bad" Muslims, just as Native Americans were used during the revolutionary period, only for the colonists to exploit and devastate both groups. Told in short chapters, it covers a lot of ground, but spans a mere ten years. As the hardest working collective in literature, Wu Ming, have produced a book that, for me, is better, if not more interesting, than Q, and, though not humorous, every bit, if not more, important than their lasting outing, 54. Though Manituana reads seamlessly, it does suffer somewhat from it being written collectively. Despite its intensity, good intentions and historical accuracy, its Brechtian picaresquesness means that it is difficult for the reader to identify with particular characters. But that's a minor criticism, because this book that isn't be missed.

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