I was barely active this year in the online reading groups that I so enjoy, and as a result I missed out on hearing about many of the year’s best books. Thankfully I checked in to peruse the “Best of” lists that people take the time to post in Play Book Tag on Shelfari from various news and web sources. Savage Harvest was one of those books, appearing on many a list. Amazingly, the audio was available through our library’s Overdrive account, so I snatched it up (the waiting list on the dead tree book and ebook was insane). The narration by Joe Barrett, played at 1.25 speed, was excellent—I highly recommend the audio for this one.
The story of this nonfiction book takes place in Dutch New Guinea and shifts in time primarily between the 1960s era story of Michael Rockefeller and his search for art among the primitive head hunting tribes and the author’s 21st century experiences as he searches for information to help explain the mysterious circumstances of Michael’s death.
What makes this book really work is the number of disparate but still interlinked topics that Hoffman works into his narrative. The reader’s interest never flags, whether the subject is the reasoning behind the rage for primitive art in 1960s America or the spiritual and cultural basis of cannibalism in the island cultures of the south Pacific (among many other topics). The only reason that this book did not earn a fifth star from me is because I felt that in parts it did get a bit confusing in how it jumped from one time period to another and back again. In fairness, sometimes that is more of an issue in a nonfiction audio than in the print version.
I have very little interest in primitive art and less in the Rockefellers; I do have a personal connection to the south Pacific region. However, I think that anyone who would like to learn more about a culture that is still, even today, despite many decades of interaction with the modern world, little understood, will enjoy this well-written quasi-mystery, with its tight, concise editing leading to great pacing.