Tuesday 20 November 2007

Wolf Brother

I've been reading Wolf Brother, by Michelle Paver, a remarkable story about a boy living a hunter-gatherer life in prehistoric times. You'll love it or hate it; I loved it.

One of the striking things about the book is the level of detail about primitive skills and technology. Michelle took her research very seriously, not only studying archaeology and anthropology, but actually living with modern day hunter-gatherers such as the Sami of Lapland and the Inuit of the Arctic.

In her author's note she writes: "What does spruce resin taste like? Or reindeer heart, or smoked elk? ...Fortunately it's still possible to find out, at least to some extent, because parts of the Forest still remain. I've been there. And at times, it can take about three seconds to go back six thousand years. If you hear red deer bellowing at midnight, or find fresh wolf-tracks crossing your own; if you suddenly have to persuade a very edgy bear that you're neither threat nor prey..."

Michelle has also studied wolves very closely, and the book includes a great deal of detail about how wolves communicate, and what humans can understand from their body language, behaviour and sounds.

Perhaps what gripped me more than anything was the insight into the beliefs and thought-processes of hunter-gatherers - again drawn from Michelle's studies and direct experience of so-called 'primitive' people today. Much of what she writes underpins the modern sportsman's thinking. It goes to the heart of what it is to be a 'hunter', in tune with the natural world, and helps explain the paradox of caring for wildlife and also killing it.

Here's a taster:

It took Torak two full days to butcher the carcass. He'd made the buck a promise, and he had to keep it by not wasting a thing. That was the age-old pact between the hunters and the World Spirit. Hunters must treat prey with respect, and in return the Spirit would send more prey... After a final round of soaking and drying, he had a reasonable skin of rawhide for rope and fishing-lines... While the hide was drying, he cut the meat into thin strips and hung them over a smoky birchwood fire...

You can read more about Michelle Paver on her website. The book, Wolf Brother, is available at bookshops or at Amazon. You can also download the entire book in a series of podcasts here. It's the first book in a series that isn't yet finished - book 4 is complete, but there are more to come. I can't wait!

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