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I was fighting against myself reading this book: wanting to keep reading to see what would happen and desperately wanting to put this book down and turn my mind to something else. In the early s -- with Newfoundland sparsely populated outside of St. John's and the indigenous Beothuk driven into the inhospitable interior of the island -- Governor Duckworth and his representative, British naval officer James Buchan, were determined to establish a friendly relationship with the "Red Indians" so named for the ochre that they rubbed onto their bodies and belongings.

Buchan travelled to the northeast shore -- where there resided colonists who had had sightings of the Beothuk -- and he encouraged several of these men to join his expedition to make contact. Buchan's ultimate goal was to convince one of the Natives to return with him, learn English, and become an interpreter between the two peoples; even if "convincing" meant "kidnapping". The expedition goes wrong and Governor Duckworth calls an end to the efforts. A decade later, after more skirmishes between the Beothuk and the settlers, Buchan returns under the orders of a new governor, and this time, he learns of the hidden histories of attacks and reprisals, crimes and outrages, prejudices and outright murder.

As Buchan once again leads a group into the frozen wilds of the interior, it's unclear whether or not there are any Beothuk left to contact. Humanising this grand sweep of events, River Thieves is fleshed out with a fascinating array of characters, each with their own private histories, expertly unveiled. As the reader learns of each character's hidden motivations, it becomes easier to spot the villains, but no easier to prevent the Beothuk's fate.

We have taken the tragedy of an entire race of people, Mr. Peyton, and cheapened it with our own sordid little melodrama. I was fascinated by this concept: I have no idea if Duckworth and Buchan's intentions were really this altruistic -- find a way to communicate with the Beothuk, even if it means taking and educating one of them against his will -- but without a method of communicating, the cycle of misunderstandings, theft, reprisal, ambushes, and "recompense" would never end, and ultimately, it didn't matter who started the cycle: it was inevitable who would come out on top.

But were the British overlords really more compassionate towards the Beothuk than they were everywhere else on the continent? As Crummey outlines his research at the end, I'll have to take his word for it unless I decide to go to original sources myself.

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Crummey expertly captured the minutia of the era -- in both the domestic and political spheres -- with an especial focus on the work of the men; the fishing, trapping, hunting, and dressing of meat and furs. He also has a real talent for writing women characters and the lives and labours of both Cassie and Annie Boss were totally believable. The history of this time was very interesting with the British government's stance on Newfoundland being influenced by the recent Revolutionary War in America, the shifting relationship with the French during and after the Napoleonic wars, and the hierarchy of prejudices among the colonists themselves: the British brought with them their firm class system with which to judge each other, but they all looked down their noses at Irish Catholics and Natives, while the Mi'kmaq who settled on Newfoundland with the French felt superior to the Beothuk and as for Buchan, every time he was confronted with English atrocities, he was pleased to point out that he was Scottish.

Capturing a long gone time and place with a prose style that is as spare and lovely as Newfoundland itself, Crummey's first novel is an engaging and worthwhile read. The sun had fallen below the ceiling of grey cloud, illuminating the enormous stretch of ice, and the snow on the branches of spruce terraced on the valley's hills burned gold all around them. It was like walking into a cathedral lit with candles and the group stood there exhausted and breathing heavily, leaning on walking sticks and bent forward to balance the weight of their packs, all with the worn look of awe of a group of pilgrims.

Fabulous story about a vanishing or already vanished breed? The characters are strong and memorable, the terrain rough and unforgiving - a great place to situate a story. Jun 13, Olga Kowalska WielkiBuk rated it really liked it. Review coming soon. Crummy's first novel is set in Newfoundland in , when Captain David Buchan arrives with orders from the English king to make contact with Beothuk, also known as the Red Indians because of the ochre they smear on their skins.

The local settlers are less than enthusiastic; the Beothuk are reclusive, they claim, moving about with the seasons, and the evidence of their presence is usually in the form of stolen goods or killings. Nevertheless, John Peyton agrees to recruit a few of his fellow tra Crummy's first novel is set in Newfoundland in , when Captain David Buchan arrives with orders from the English king to make contact with Beothuk, also known as the Red Indians because of the ochre they smear on their skins. Nevertheless, John Peyton agrees to recruit a few of his fellow trappers and take the marines north.

Peyton's father, known as John Senior, warns that the journey will be futile and perhaps even tragic. It ends when two marines are brutally slaughtered. But Buchan returns a few years later with orders not only to establish relations with the Beothuk but to find out the truth behind an incident that left two Indian men dead on an icy lake. The truth unravels slowly, thwarted by lies, rivalries, secrets, and loyalties. Crummy's tale, set against the unforgiving winter landscape, is a study of human survival, its violence, passion, and revenge.

At the heart of it all are the conflicts and loyalties within the Peyton household, among the father, his son, and and Cassie, an independent woman brought home years earlier by John Senior as a teacher, a housekeeper, and possibly a lover. The main characters are complex, forced by circumstances to trust one another despite their basic distrust.

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Buchan's arrival sets the stage for secrets of the past to start unraveling. Crummy brings this eerie, melancholy world to life, particularly through his brilliant descriptions of the hostile Newfoundland landscape. His cast of characters, in addition to those mentioned above, are intriguing and original.

There's Joseph Reilly, branded and expatriated as a boy for picking pockets, and his Christian Mikmuk wife, Annie Boss, the local healer and midwife. Richmond and Taylor, rough trappers who have known one another since childhood. Mary, a young Beothuk woman kidnapped by John Peyton in an act of government-sanctioned reparation for stolen goods. Governor Hamilton, the ineffective overseer of the colony.

River Thieves

And many lesser but still significant characters, some long dead yet still wielding influence over the settlers. This is the second novel by Michael Crummy that I have read and enjoyed, and I look forward to catching up with the rest. Jan 11, Jay Warner rated it it was amazing.

Michael Crummey hails from Nova Scotia, where the book is set, so its no wonder he can describe in such intimate detail the little rivers and creeks, necks and beaches, hills, and valleys. I found myself totally immersed in the world that was St. John in the early s, the lives of the trappers and the interference of the English. Crummey brought the time period to life in ways I could never get from a history book.

He also takes a very daring approach to historical fiction in his depictin of Michael Crummey hails from Nova Scotia, where the book is set, so its no wonder he can describe in such intimate detail the little rivers and creeks, necks and beaches, hills, and valleys. He also takes a very daring approach to historical fiction in his depictin of the Red Indians and the MicMacs, given that our current "political correctness" sometimes causes us to whitewash the way that Native Americans were thought of, and treated. This is a nice contrast to Louise Erdrich's books which are from the viewpoint of the native.

Crummey's book is from the viewpoint of the trapper. There are also graphic descriptions of trapping practices including setting traps, coming upon a frightened animal who has tried to chew its way out of a leg trap, slaughter, and skinning. These sections of the book are not for the squeamish. If you have any interest in early pre-nation settlement of Canada, you will love this book as much as I do. View 1 comment. Feb 18, Mary Billinghurst rated it it was amazing.

I reread this novel for a presentation I have volunteered to do at the library. Honestly, I rarely reread books anymore since I have so many new ones I want to get through, but I am very glad I picked up River Thieves again. It is very good. I love Crummey's narrative technique in this book. He outlines the key event of the plot the capture of a Beothuk woman at the very beginning, and then he returns to this moment many times as the story develops. Each time, we learn more details. It is as if I reread this novel for a presentation I have volunteered to do at the library.

It is as if Crummey has drawn a colouring book which he fills in vividly during the course of his work. Crummey seamlessly moves back and forth through history as well, giving us the main characters' backstories, to help us know them better. The characters are very richly drawn as a result. In this, his first novel, Crummey explores the history and the culture of his native province, Newfoundland, something he does again in his later books, The Wreckage and Galore.

His common thematic foci of unrequited love and the struggle against nature are introduced here. Apr 19, Irene rated it really liked it.

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I had River Thieves for months before starting it, for fear of being disappointed. I wasn't ready until Galore was published. As it turns out, I was disappointed, which is not to say River Thieves is not a very good book. It's just very different from The Wreckage. It is Michael Crummy's first novel. What disappointed me was that I had to really work to get into the book, unlike the Wreckage which had me hooked right from the beginning.

That said, it is a very interesting novel, which takes place in the early 's in Newfoundland. Based on actual events, it concerns interactions between native indians, British settlers and Naval officials. It's set on the northeast coast, where the settlers fish in summer and trap in winter. The Navy is hoping to establish friendly relations between the two groups, both of whom depend on the same resources for their survival.

Michael Crummy is a Newfoundlander and the dialogue between characters is rich in colloquialisms. It is an interesting window into a different time and place. Nov 05, Gerry Burnie rated it it was amazing Shelves: history , canadian-content , canadian-history.

Part of the extinction process was as a result of being retreated into areas that could not sustain them; European diseases particularly tuberculoses for which they had no immunity; and anecdotes of genocide in which they were hunted like wolves. Indeed, the extinction of such a shy, peaceful and unique people is a black mark in Canadian history. All of this Michael Crummey has captured with remarkable insight, and a superb sense of time and place.

His approach of fictionalizing historical events and persons while not unique is certainly affective in making them come to life in the context in which they existed, i. British naval officer, James Buchan, [a real historical figure] is sent to the British Colony of Newfoundland to establish productive relations with the mysterious aboriginals. In order to accomplish this mission he recruits the help of the Peyton family—a sort of backwoods aristocracy led by the tough-minded John Peyton Sr.

However, his son, John Jr. Rounding off this complex household is Cassie Jure, the enigmatic housekeeper, who is surprisingly independent for a female servant of the 19th-century, but she nonetheless adds a feminine perspective to a dominant cast of men. Likewise, his research and portrayal of 19th-century mores and terms gives it a solid credibility that invests the reader from beginning to end.

For all these reasons, it is highly recommended. Five bees. Demasduit was a Beothuk woman who is thought to have been about 23 years old when she was captured near Red Indian Lake in March The governor of Newfoundland, although seeking to encourage trade and end hostilities between the Beothuk and the English, had approved an expedition led by captain David Buchan to recover a boat and other fishing gear which had been stolen by the Beothuk.

A group from this expedition was led by John Peyton Jr. She pleaded for her life, baring her breasts to show she was a nursing mother. They took Demasduit to Twillingate and Peyton earned a bounty on her. The baby died. Peyton was later appointed Justice of the Peace at Twillingate, Newfoundland. The British called Demasduit Mary March after the month when she was taken. Later bringing her to St. Demasduit learned some English and taught the settlers about words of Beothuk language. However, in January while making the trip back to Notre Dame Bay Demasduit died of tuberculosis before reaching her kin.

Source: Wikipedia. Jun 12, Ollie rated it really liked it Recommends it for: Newfies, people interested in Canada's history, misery guts. I never in a million years would have picked up this book if it hadn't been for my book club. And that's a sad thing to realise after finishing a very satisfying read.

It turns out that Michael Crummey is a respected poet and prose writer in Canada, winning many awards with River Thieves as well as with his poetry collections. I can see why.


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Set in the early part of the s in Newfoundland where Crummey is from , River Thieves is a sombre historical novel that charts the conflicts and misunder I never in a million years would have picked up this book if it hadn't been for my book club. Set in the early part of the s in Newfoundland where Crummey is from , River Thieves is a sombre historical novel that charts the conflicts and misunderstandings between a group of tough settlers and the dwindling and mysterious Beothuk Indians.

Bound to remote parts of the island, the Beothuk are like a people from a fantasy novel: entirely painted in red, remote and impossible to find, they entice search parties to go after them for the sake of a government wanting to create peace between the natives and the colonies. Who are the river thieves? Maybe they are the settlers who feel like they own the rivers and hunt natives who dare to interfere with their fishing. Or maybe they are the natives who are pushed into behaving like criminals in their own land by an expanding English colony that only sees them as a freakshow or gun target.

River Thieves deserves to get an audience outside of Canada because it's not only beautifully written but it shows a part of Canadian history that many are not aware of. When I studied in Canada, I heard some Canadian friends say that their history was boring. Well, this book proves them wrong. The description of Newfoundland's harsh winter landscape and what the settlers and natives had to do to survive it is worth the read alone.

May 01, Emily rated it it was amazing Shelves: favorites. I loved how Crummey told this story, moving around in time to weave a plot with surprises. In the process, several characters became more nuanced, and my assumptions disproved. He also told the story with continual reminders to the senses of this Newfoundland world: the cold, the ice, the mud, the flickering candles at night, the annoyance of flies in the summer, the smell of the chamber pot. I feel very lucky to have read this book.

Shortly after finishing his newer book Galore, I realized I ha I loved how Crummey told this story, moving around in time to weave a plot with surprises. Shortly after finishing his newer book Galore, I realized I had purchased this book from the library's discarded book sale. And now it on my favorites shelf, a story I will undoubtedly have in my mind when I think of Newfoundland, with Cassie a character I didn't quite understand but certainly cared about.

Michael Crummey is becoming one of my favorite authors. You cannot skip willy nilly through the pages of his books. Every paragraph will grab you and make you want to keep turning pages. The story surrounds a group of European settlers in the early 19th century the Peytons. The reader following their family, their housekeeper, Cassie, who carries her own personal tragedy and the men who manage fishing and trapping concerns on the shore of Newfoundland.

It's a brutal, physically punishing life Michael Crummey is becoming one of my favorite authors. It's a brutal, physically punishing life filled with violence and hardship. Their misunderstandings and compromises have tragic consequences for themselves and the Beothuk, the Red Indians, a people on the verge of extinction. Nov 24, Carla rated it it was amazing. I'm bound and determined to read all of Michael Crummey's books. This didn't disappoint.

There is much misunderstandings, violence, and the cruelty of both peoples. Fishing and hunting rights are still in contention to this day. The depiction of the Newfoundland landscape and people are captured by Crummey, a native Newfoundlander brilliantly. Apr 25, Jacquie Harnett rated it it was amazing Shelves: reading-again. I read this book some years ago and it has been calling me to read it again. I was not disappointed. The book was wonderful from beginning to end. Michael Crummy is so good at creating an atmosphere that just pulls me in and holds me. The characters are believeable - ordinary and extrordinary at the same time.

Newfundland in the 's comes to life and light. Again, I loved it. Nov 18, Angie Scar rated it really liked it. I have a tendency to absorb books quickly. I frequently will start and finish a book in a day. Not so with Crummey. I sip his writing like a robust and soothing red.


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  • Review: by Michael Crummey. It was a slow pace book with so much background that took some time reading. It was set at a time when the lives of trappers, the interference of the English and the Red Indians territory was the focus of Newfoundland. Michael Crummey seemed to know a lot of history of Newfoundland and his writing was descripti Review: by Michael Crummey.

    Michael Crummey seemed to know a lot of history of Newfoundland and his writing was descriptive, organized, and developed. Bound to remote areas of the island it was impossible to come across the Beothuk people who were entirely painted in red that search parties were sent by the government to try and create peace between the natives and the colonies that were being developed on the island.

    Crummey The first element, that is, the belief that now is the continuity of the past, is demonstrated through intergenerational transmission. Encountering the ancestors of important or historical figures offers a metaphorical handshake across time; it becomes the meeting point between the present and the past.

    Apparently, the memory of the events that constitute the subject matter of the discussed novel is still a strong presence in the life of Newfoundlanders. When I wrote River Thieves, which is about events that took place two hundred years ago, but it concerns a particular family, the Peytons, I could not believe how many Peytons I ran into after that book came out. I got to meet a Mr.

    Edgar Bear. He was 93, and his grandmother knew John Peyton Jr. And that was an amazing moment—just to see how close all of that is to the present still. The modern world is built upon past victories to the same extent that it is shaped by past failures, wrong choices and missed opportunities. Consequently, the shape of the future depends on the present moment and decisions yet to be made, of which the pivotal concern is the acknowledgment of other narratives excluded from the official history.

    In Roman-style history, the function of memory was essentially to ensure that nothing was forgotten — or in other words, to preserve the law and perpetually to enhance the luster of power for so long as it endured. The new history that now emerges, in contrast, has to disinter something that has been hidden, and which has been hidden not only because it has been neglected, but because it has been carefully, deliberately, and wickedly misrepresented.

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    Basically, what the new history is trying to show is that power, the mighty, the kings, and the laws have concealed the fact that they were born of the contingency and injustice of battles. Foucault, Cynthia Sugars explicates it in the fol owing terms,. The extermination of the Beothuk Indians in Newfoundland has for a long time figured as a kind of formative event in Newfoundland and Canadian culture, a foundational trauma contributing to a constitutive and irreversible absence in official versions of invader-settler history.

    In effect, the Beothuk trauma, as experienced by the Beothuk themselves, is appropriated as a national trauma, or, should I say, Canadian nationalist discourse represents this tragedy as though it were a transferable trauma in order to conjure the event as a constitutive beginning for national self-definition. Therefore, writing about the lost tribe of Red Indians without appropriating their trauma is a nearly impossible task for someone who is a descendant of British settlers.

    The aim of River Thieves is not to revindicate but to express the notion of loss as well as offer a deeper understanding of the circumstances that led to the dramatic events described in the novel and the ultimate extinction of the Beothuk tribe. As the first settlers searched for places convenient for fishing and hunting they subsequently drove the Red Indians [6] inland towards Red Indian Lake.

    Though such an arrangement seemed initially to serve as a basis for a peaceful side-by-side existence with the incidents of friendly ex-change of goods, it soon converted into a bloody war over the territory and animals between the Red Indians and some of the most affluent settlers that lived off fishing and hunting. Through the introduction of a wide array of characters, Crummey manages to portray settlers as a heterogeneous group, composed of individuals that differ in their viewpoints, attitudes, values, and conduct, the case of the Peytons being the most vivid example.

    Peyton Senior has a reputation for being a hardened enemy of Red Indians and has allegedly killed one with the use of a trap-bed. Unlike his father, young Peyton sees a possibility of peaceful co-existence between settlers and the Red Indians. Making Peyton Junior a main focalizer in River Thieves, Crummey shifts the focal point from conflicts and bloodshed to cooperation, coexistence, neighbourhood, or friendship.

    By accommodating Mary, the captured Beothuk woman, at his house and treating her like a guest with the utmost respect, Peyton Junior sets a new paradigm for relations between settlers and indigenous people. However, the fact that emphasizes the shift towards peaceful coexistence between the two hostile groups is that Mary is no longer seen as a savage or exotic Other but a prospective partner in mediation. Mary never fully learns English whether by will or not is unclear.

    This fact, more than others, will come to haunt her captors. Mary, and the Beothuk more generally, embody this in-between moment, when going back was impossible and going forward, as before, was equally impossible. In this way, the Beothuk represent the end of an era, for Beothuk and settlers both. A nostalgia for originary nostalgia. A perpetual penultimate. Sugars, River Thieves is like a piece of amber in which Demasduit, the Beothuk name of Mary, is preserved for prosperity; a silent witness, revealing nothing of her own people but testifying to their eradication.

    Though her capture constitutes the backbone of the novel, Mary is in no way a central character in the story. No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. I want to know your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you in such a way that has become mine, my own. Re-writing you, I rewrite myself anew.

    I am still author, authority. I am still the colonizer, the speaking subject, and you are now at the center of my talk. Although the presence of Mary as well as her people is crucial to the story, Crummey manages to avoid the pitfalls bell hooks described. Narrating the events from the perspective of the settlers, Peyton Senior, his adult son and their housemaid Cassie Jure, not only does the author avoid a secondary colonization of the Beothuk, but he also calls the objectivity of the narrative into question.

    The understanding and the inevitable interpretation of the events in the novel differ greatly between the three aforementioned characters. Rescue history is also understood as existential history that contemplates the meanders of the human condition. Entangled in their often traumatic past, they all strive for a better future in Newfoundland, though in different ways and at different costs. One of the least likable characters, Peyton Senior, is a tough, unemotional man that seems to care about nothing but his son and estate.

    Yet, he is the one to rescue an Irish ex-convict, Reilly, as well as Cassie. Little did Peyton Senior suspect that by offering to remove the T-shaped iron brand off the hand of an underage Irish thief and providing him with a job at his estate would he in fact rescue his own life in the long run.

    RIVER THIEVES by Michael Crummey | Kirkus Reviews

    The illicit love affair between Cassie and Captain Buchan, accidentally discovered by Peyton Junior, saves Reilly from the gallows. Nature features prominently in River Thieves, as in every Crummey novel, for life on this island is closely intertwined with its climate and animal resources. The severity of this winter is demonstrated in the following passage from the novel:. The constant frost of that year had sealed the coast in a solid band of ice from the early days of December. Crummey, Similarly, both expeditions to Red Indian Lake that take place in the winters of and demonstrate how human history is closely entangled in or becomes natural history.

    The men struggle with the elements and the unbridled river that almost claims the life of one of the soldiers, as well as hunt down animals to ensure their provisions are sufficient and do not run out prema-turely. Their lives depend on nature that, in turn, becomes an agent in their history.