Transport yourself back 40,000 years, and watch a life-and-death drama unfold.
Strong Arms, and his mate Brown Curls, are waiting patiently for a huge antler-animal to grow weak so they can finally kill it. It’s been two days since the big beast fell into a glacial depression, fashioned into a trap by the pair. Its legs have been crushed by boulders rolled down on it earlier by Brown Curls.
Brutal hunting technique? Very much so. But it’s just another day for these Stone Age Neanderthals, who are trying to survive and bring back food to their ravenous clan.
Through the talented touch of author Steven Burgauer, the reader is transported across the eons to walk the Neolithic landscape in search of daily sustenance for Strong Arms’ clan.
Indeed, Burgauer’s vivid portrayal of day-to-day life back then — complete with bouts of anxiety, somnambulism, and even eroticism — make this novel breathe with an uncannily contemporary touch of reality.
“Neanderthals were not the stumbling, stupid brutes moderns once pictured them as being,” Burgauer asserts. “Give a Neanderthal man a shave and a bath and dress him up in a coat and tie and you wouldn’t notice him on a crowded platform waiting for a train.”
This story is skillfully woven among fascinating — and plentiful — anthropological nuggets and ancient history. But don’t think it’s just a dry recitation of facts and figures drawn from a dusty textbook.
Strong Arms and his clan practically leap off the page and into your imagination as they battle wolves during important tribal events, such as the chieftain’s eleven-year-old son’s coming-of-age ceremony — the Night of the Eleventh Sun.
In a different kind of struggle, Wide Smiles, the fourteen-year-old daughter, must battle her emerging sexuality to keep from going “knees-up” with her cousin, Long Legs. Hormones rage — little different than in present day — and the instinctual, though taboo, urge to mate with a kinsman is hard to overcome.
As the mild European summer passes, however, the family unit is distracted from its dilemma of breeding stock scarcity. There are ritualistic rites to perform, honoring the all-powerful Nature God, and even an occasional musical celebration, performed with hollow bird-bone flutes and turtle-shell drums.
Still other little-known historical notes emerge. For example, it was not unusual for cannibalism to occur every now and then, savoring such delicacies as the sacred brains and livers of deceased clan officials. And children, especially those belonging to important clan members were almost never buried. Instead, their tiny bodies were placed with great reverence in cave wall niches and carefully sealed.
“It was believed that the Spirit of the one who had died would fly to the Nature God on the wings of a hawk or an eagle, only to return later in the guise of a son or a grandson.”
Much more could be said of this excellent piece of historical fiction, but suffice to say, it roundly deserves five stars for its unique ability to entertain as well as inform. You’ll never look upon the cavemen in museum dioramas in quite the same way again.
Well done, Mr. Burgauer. Another masterwork of writing, at once inventive and illuminating.