Book Review: What became of the white savage by Francois Garde

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Review:

***2.5 stars***

‘What became of the white savage’ is penned by French novelist Francois Garde and has won him 9 literary prizes in France.

The novel begins in the 1840’s when a young French sailor by the name of Narcisse Pelletier is accidentally abandoned on the coast of Australia and assumed dead by his shipmates. 17 years later he is discovered living as one with the aboriginal people having forgotten all of his initial French identity and language.

The novel alternates between two narratives, one being that of Narcisse as he is welcomed by an aboriginal tribe. The other takes the form of letters written from Octave, a geographer, to the president of the Paris geographical society.

This novel has an interesting concept at this core, it questions what identity means to us and touches on its fluidity. His depiction of the effects of competing cultural values was creative and I found it entertaining. The technique of alternating between the two narratives also worked well to keep me engaged.

The encounter with the aboriginal people is explored from a singular point of view, Narcisse’s. I feel I would have enjoyed the book more had there been some chapters about how the native people might have perceived the sudden arrival of this stranger. The novel is somewhat inspired by the true story of a French sailor abandoned in Australia, but it does not deliver in the way that historical fiction should, conveying very little historical truth. However, in a purely fictional context I found ‘What became of the white savage’ to be an engaging and satisfactory novel.

Happy Reading ❤

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