What Became of the White Savage

Written by Aneesa Abbas Higgins (trans.) Francois Garde
Review by Tim Smith

Narcisse Pelletier, an 18-year-old French sailor, returns from searching for water to find his ship gone. He is alone on the coast of Australia. It is the 1840s. Nearly twenty years later Octave de Vallombrun, a French geographer, is called to the governor’s house in Sydney; a white man has been found living amongst the savages, acting and speaking like them. De Vallombrun takes responsibility for the white savage and begins the long task of learning about him and rehabilitating him so that he can return to civilised society.

Francois Garde’s first novel won nine awards after its publication in France in 2012. It is a good book, readable and interesting. The novel is divided between Narcisse’s experiences and the episodic accounts of de Vallombrun. As a result of this structure, the account (very possibly intentionally) feels quite impersonal and is often like reading an anthropological report. It felt as if the book was constantly on the verge of saying something truly thought-provoking but without ever quite managing to do so. I would recommend this book, whilst at the same time feeling that it held the promise of more than it ultimately delivered.