Friday, September 19, 2008
Bringing the Boy Home
N.A. Nelson's debut novel, Bringing the Boy Home, is all about adventure. Set partly in the Amazon jungle, partly in the United States, it is the story of two young men of the Takunami tribe and their experiences as they approach their coming-of-age rituals on their thirteenth birthdays.
At the age of six, Tirio was cast out of his community because of a physical deformity. One day, his mother took Tirio to the river, watched him clamber into his "corpse canoe" and then pushed the boat into the waters of the Amazon, believing that she was sending him to his death. According to Takunami beliefs, Tirio was not strong enough to become a warrior because of his disability, and so he had to be sacrificed to uphold his family's honor. But he did not die. He was found. Adopted by an American anthropologist, Tirio grows up in the United States, but he never forgets his birthplace, and though he is happy and loved, he longs to return to the jungle to prove his strength. More than anything, he hopes to have the chance to complete his soto seche tente, the sixth-sense test that all Takunami boys must pass in order to meet their father and be recognized by the tribe as a worthy warrior.
Nelson's tale really rips along, with short chapters that alternate perspectives between Tirio's story and Luka's, a Takunami boy who is in the midst of training hard for his sixth-sense test. Without giving too much away, I thought it was clever the way the author brought the two narratives together at the end of the novel without really forecasting where things were headed. Of course you're quite curious to figure out the connection between the threads of the novel as you read along, but I didn't anticipate how things eventually turned out.
The evocation of the setting is particularly satisfying. The intensity of jungle life, and the challenges of survival under such dangerous conditions adds greatly to the overall tension of the plot. The story was inspired by the author's visit to Brazil, and her appreciation of the diversity of the plant and animal life and the various Amazon communities as well. The Takunami tribe is imaginary, but Nelson has created an entirely believable culture that feels complex, exotic and intriguing. As further proof of her passion for this part of the world, Nelson is donating some of the profits to the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT). Cool, yes?
This is a book for anyone who is after a classic adventure tale, and who enjoys survival stories with extreme settings. Bringing the Boy Home won the 2005 Ursula Nordstrom Fiction Contest, introducing us to a writer to watch.