The Last Matriarch

The Last Matriarch
$9.99 or kindleunlimited
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: University of New Mexico Press
Publication Year: 2000/2016
ISBN: 0826321313
Over eleven thousand years ago the plains of the great Southwest were covered with sweet long-season grass. Herds of camels, bison, mammoths lived with predators like dire wolves, saber-toothed cats, and the hunter gatherers we now call the Clovis people. This story of Willow, Jak, Etol, and their clan takes place in a land that we unconsciously recognize, and shows us people whose needs, hopes, and fears are our own. They live in a world where communication with animals, plants, and even stones is not only possible but necessary. Willow's life path echoes that of Half Ear and Red Fur, the matriarchs of the woolly mammoth herd, and by joining their stories, Russell explores an archaeological puzzle: the extinction of nearly eighty percent of large land mammals at the end of the Pleistocene. The meaning of being human lies at the heart of the puzzle. Russell's imaginative reconstruction of the world of Willow and her clan illumines the tribal self--the basket maker, the mammoth hunter, the healer, the shaman--that still lives in each of us.
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Overview

From Publishers Weekly

In the tradition of Jean Auel, this well-researched novel authentically recreates the world of the Clovis people, hunters and gatherers who lived on the Southwestern plains of North America more than 11,000 years ago. Willow, one of the clan elders, tells the story of her youth, a time when abundant bison, camels, mammoths and lions roamed. After her husband, Jak, is killed by a mammoth during a hunt, the strong-willed Willow is obliged to become the second wife of Etol, Jak’s brother, who can provide for her children, Ali and Chi. Each spring, the group travels to perform tribal rites and meet with healers, shamans and storytellers. Here they connect with other camps, in friendship, trade or competition, often finding mates for their offspring. Central to the lives of these prehistoric people is an intuitive communication with the natural world; for example, Willow hears the history of Half Ear, a great woolly mammoth who is the matriarch of her herd, through a necklace made of the animal’s ivory. Other tales that mirror Willow’s are told through beads, bear skins and plants; these are beautifully used to diversify the narrative, making poetic, imaginative statements about the harmonious relationship humans and nature once enjoyed. But in this wild environment, the death rate is high; bears and lions snatch away children, women die in childbirth and men are killed in stampedes. Living to a rare old age of 60, Willow reflects on the changing relationship between her family and the plains. “Now the land itself seemed to ripple, shimmering with emptiness. These children had never seen a tapir. They had never seen a mammoth.” Russell (Song of the Fluteplayer, etc.) mournfully but responsibly addresses the mystery of how so many large land animals at the close of the Pleistocene era became extinct, and intelligently speculates on how humans interacted with these vanished species and each other, and how they faced the inexorable transformation of the land. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

More than 11,000 years ago, the American Southwest was not yet desert. It was a beckoning prairie whose tall grass fed great mammoths as well as the smaller bison and camels that in turn provided food for humans and other carnivores. In this intriguing novel, Russell proposes an early ecological disaster that ended in the extinction of the mammoth as well as other, smaller creatures. Linking the story of a woman’s clan with that of a group of mammoths, Russell reveals the dense interconnections between primal people and the animals on which they rely. Her main character, a woman who chooses to hunt for herself and her children, is developed as a parallel to a fiercely maternal mammoth “queen.” With a fluidly poetic style and vivid characterizations, Russell brings the ancient Southwest alive.
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