Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Review: Museum of Human Beings
Museum of Human Beings by Colin Sargent is the story of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacagawea, who led Lewis and Clark across the continent to the Pacific. She was also Clark’s lover, and after her death, he raises Baptiste as a foster son. I found Baptiste and Clark’s relationship to be heartbreaking, almost tragic. Baptiste wants a father, but instead, Clark treats him as a specimen for his bizarre museum. The rest of the book details Baptiste’s many travels and adventures, both good and bad, in Europe and America, as he tries to learn who he is and where he fits in.
Colin Sargent is clearly a talented man. According to his website, he’s a playwright, poet, editor and magazine publisher. His talent with words shows in Museum of Human Beings. The book has a heaviness to it, each word weighted down with the obvious care Sargent took in selecting each one. In particular, I loved Baptiste’s conversations with Ekaterina, his friend in Europe. However, this weightiness really cut both ways. There were truly lyrical passages in this book, sections that read like a prose poem. On the other hand, many passages dragged, I thought, including much of Baptiste’s time in New Orleans.
As regular readers of this blog may have noticed, it took me a while to finish this book. First, I had some personal undertakings to attend to, which kept me too busy to read much. Then, to be honest, I struggled to read this. Sargent has created a world in this book that is very uncomfortable to inhabit as a reader. Not that that is a bad thing, as I think that is true to life for these people/characters, but I never found myself looking forward to picking up this book. Once I was reading, I was engaged but even then, I was happy to put it down when it was time to stop reading for the night.
When I talked about this book with my husband, he made a great observation. This book is like a lot of very good literature: worth the time, but once read, I won't feel the need to accomplish reading it again.
I think that fans of American and Native American history will love Museum of Human Beings. Lewis and Clark aficionados may get a shock at how poorly their heroes are regarded (by Baptiste), but should enjoy reading the life story of the last member of the famed expedition. For me, it wasn’t quite my cup of tea.
Buy Museum of Human Beings on Amazon.