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The Afterlife of George Cartwright [Paperback]

John Steffler , Renee Hulan
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Aug. 30 1999 New Canadian library
In this stunning and original novel, John Steffler has recreated a lost time and place, and has given life to an enigmatic figure from Canada’s 18th-century past. Described quietly by historians as “soldier, diarist, entrepreneur,” George Cartwright emerges in Steffler’s tale as a character of overwhelming appetite and ambition. Until this time Cartwright’s greatest legacy has been the place in Labrador named after him and the journal he wrote during his years there, when he lived amongst Native people and ran a successful trading post. Now his legacy becomes our own: a telling portrait of our past; a warning.

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From Library Journal

In this admirable novel, Steffler re-creates a little-known episode in Canadian history. In 1770, George Cartwright became the first European to trade successfully with the Inuit Eskimos of Labrador. Though he had to imitate Inuit ways to survive, he remained unalterably convinced of the superiority of all things European. He strove to "civilize" the Inuit, who saw no reason to change. A junket to England has disastrous consequences for the tribe; the Inuit bring back the pox, which destroys them all. Cartwright was the prototypical exploiter, ceaselessly manipulating people but filled with zest for life. After his death, his shade wanders the English countryside, seeking a resolution to his wasted life. "I should have learned to worship instead of slaughter," he reflects. Steffler successfully blends history and imagination to produce a brilliant novel without a false note anywhere. Enthusiastically recommended.
- David Keymer, California State Univ., Stanislaus
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

George Cartwright--a little-known 18th-century explorer, trapper, and author of A Journal of Transactions and Events During a Residency of Nearly Sixteen Years on the Coast of Labrador--died of old age at home in England in May 1819. In a stunningly rich and delicate first novel, Canadian poet Steffler posits and follows Cartwright's ghost of 170 years as it wanders the English roads in the spring of his death and reflects on a passionate life gone oddly awry at every turn. For Steffler's Cartwright--one of ten children raised by a country squire--the purpose of life itself became the pristine, powerful, perilous wilderness that he was among the first Englishmen to visit in Newfoundland and Labrador in the 1770's. Having hired ships and crew, Cartwright planned to collect furs and other bounty and return home a rich man. Instead, he fell in love with the rivers and forests, the hunting, trapping, and fishing, and the native peoples of the mountainous Labrador coast. But he couldn't build a life: The punishing winters killed his crews, fires burned his storehouses, and the ships he hired for return trips were lost or damaged. In one heartrending series of mishaps, the beloved Eskimos Cartwright brings to London as cynical inducements to his creditors to be lenient contract smallpox; they die horrible deaths on the journey back and spread the pestilence to the New World. Finally, pirates invade Cartwright's renewed stocks of furs, his workers mutiny, and even his loyal, stalwart English mistress rebels against his self-absorption, and Cartwright, bewildered, returns to England. There, he becomes a florid, tale-telling barracks-master. Steffler, however, lovingly gives him a second life--one in which, as he wanders alone through the perpetual English spring of his youth, he is permitted to discover his intentions and his mistakes and finally to die nobly, as he might have done in Labrador. Based in part on Cartwright's Journal, a keen, richly hued, and utterly enchanting imaginative reconstruction of a life. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece Feb. 5 2008
This engaging book uses the elements of fable to explore the life and afterlife of the main character by placing him in various geographical settings and historical eras of Canadian and British history. All the characters are fascinating, courageous explorers in their own right, and although each has a fatal flaw, the reader cares deeply about their fate. It is one of the best Canadian-authored books I have ever read, and it continues to haunt me.
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