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A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World    by Tony Horwitz order for
Voyage Long and Strange
by Tony Horwitz
Order:  USA  Can
Henry Holt, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

After I read - and thoroughly enjoyed - Blue Latitudes, I was anxious for more from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz and he does not disappoint with A Voyage Long and Strange, which explores pre-Mayflower America with a delightful sense of the ironic - and whose title is taken from an account of Columbus' first landing somewhere at the eastern end of the Bahamas.

After reminding us that - despite popular misconception - the Mayflower Pilgrims were by no means the first Europeans to explore North America and that 'By the time the first English settled, other Europeans had already reached half of the forty-eight states that today make up the continental U.S.' and were denied 'the drama of first contact', Horwitz wonders 'What would it be like to explore this New World, not only in books but on the ground?' He proceeds to follow in the footsteps of the first Europeans 'who crossed the ocean blue, long before fourteen hundred and ninety-two.'

He shares his journey with devoted readers in A Voyage Long and Strange, which is divided into three parts: Discovery, Conquest and Settlement. The former begins with Eirik the Red of Greenland, whose son Leif the Lucky discovered Vinland (Newfoundland). There the author follows the Viking Trail to the Norse settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, and informs us that the first European child born in North America was Snorri, not Virginia Dare! Horwitz considers Vinland's settlers - who left from Norse Greenland's fifteen year old colony - 'on the medieval equivalent of a space walk, tethered to a mother ship already at the furthest reach of European society and knowledge.'

From these intrepid Norse voyagers, we move on to Christopher Columbus who 'sailed off believing that Asia lay about three thousand miles west' and 'changed the world, not because he was right, but because he was so stubbornly wrong.' The subsequent Spanish settlement left the Indies a legacy of brutality and genocide, the latter leading to the shipping of African slaves to the Caribbean to replaces the dwindling Indians. Horwitz also quotes a Spanish ambassador's comment on another consequence of Columbus' 1492 voyage, that 'there are now more Spanish-speaking people in the United States than in Spain'.

Under Conquest, Horwitz takes us from the Caribbean to Ponce de Léon's incursion into what he called La Florida, where hundreds of Spaniards 'soon followed in his wake, poking at the fringes of the U.S. continent'. He tells us that Cabeza de Vaca's trek 'made Lewis and Clark's expedition, three centuries later, look like a Cub Scout outing by comparison.' This section fascinated me as I'd been made aware of Viking journeys through historical fiction, but had heard nothing before of Spanish incursions in the Southwest by conquistadors like Francisco de Coronado and Hernando de Soto - who devastated the Southeast's city-states, and 'whose mad, failed quest blazed a trail to the new world that America was to become.'

Finally, in Settlement, Horwitz introduces us to French Huguenots who settled peacefully in South Carolina in 1562, only to be slaughtered by the Spanish, whose own beachheads were short-lived. Next we hear of Walter Raleigh's expeditions to Virginia and the abandoned colony of Roanoke, the fate of whose over a hundred settlers - including infant Virginia Dare - is unknown. That story seques into John Smith's well known adventures with Pocahontas in Virginia.

Tony Horwitz ends his own epic journey at Plymouth Rock, which he now sees 'not as the cornerstone of early America, but as its capstone, piled on a cairn erected by all those who came before.' I highly recommend A Voyage Long and Strange to you as a compelling read that will have you turning pages with the same fascination you bring to a gripping thriller - definitely not to be missed!

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