The Old American

Written by Ernest Hebert
Review by Mark F. Johnson

This wonderful story fictionalizes the real life captivity of Nathan Blake, an English settler who was taken prisoner during a French raid on a New Hampshire settlement. The captor, an elderly Native American named Caucus-Meteor, is a purely fictional character created by the author. The story winds along with the ever-evolving relationship between these two men, both of whom suffer from a deep lack of fulfillment.

Hebert’s style is as inviting as a fine wine. His humor is dry, his metaphors subtle and smooth, and his dialog crisp and clean. Caucus-Meteor’s penchant for cheating at canoe paddling, letting his oar be simply carried along by the forward motion of the canoe rather than contributing to the effort, exemplifies his existence. He feels the responsibilities of leadership, but would rather someone else take charge. He admires in others their ability to act on their feelings, and is envious of their freedom from responsibility.

Nathan Blake suffers the ignominy of captivity because it is preferable to the unfulfilled existence he left behind. But he never loses his pride or his religious beliefs. His personal demons fascinate Caucus-Meteor, and his work ethic and stoicism earn him the respect of his captives. He, in turn, begins to see the “savages” as they really are: a truly magnificent people.

I enjoyed this book immensely and look forward to visiting Keene, New Hampshire, the town that grew from the Nathan Blake’s settlement.