From the award-winning author of The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre and The Beautiful Miscellaneous comes a sweeping historical novel set amid the skyscrapers of 1890s Chicago and the far-flung islands of the South Pacific.
With critical praise lavished on his first two novels, Dominic Smith has become a celebrated and deeply revered storyteller. Bright and Distant Shores, his latest novel, offers a stunning exploration of late-nineteenth-century America and the tribal Pacific. It's an epic journey that fans of historical fiction will never forget.
In the waning years of the nineteenth century there was a hunger for tribal artifacts, spawning collecting voyages from museums and collectors around the globe. In 1897, one such collector, a Chicago insurance magnate, sponsors an expedition into the South Seas to commemorate the completion of his company's new skyscraper - the world's tallest building. The ship is to bring back an array of Melanesian weaponry and handicrafts, but also several natives related by blood.
Caught up in this scheme are two orphans - Owen Graves, an itinerant trader from Chicago's South Side who has recently proposed to the girl he must leave behind, and Argus Niu, a mission houseboy in the New Hebrides who longs to be reunited with his sister. At the cusp of the twentieth century, the expedition forces a collision course between the tribal and the civilized, between two young men plagued by their respective and haunting pasts.
An epic and ambitious story that brings to mind E. L. Doctorow, with echoes of Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, Bright and Distant Shores is a wondrous achievement by a writer known for creating compelling fiction from the fabric of history.
They were showing the savages on the rooftop - that was the word at the curbstone. The brickwork canyon of La Salle Street ebbed with clerks and stenographers, messenger boys astride their Monarch bicycles, wheat brokers up from the pit at the Board of Trade. Typists in gingham dresses stood behind mullioned windows, gazing down at the tidal crowd. Insurance men huddled together in islands of billycock hats and brown woolen suits, their necks craned, wetted handkerchiefs at the nape. The swelter hung in the air like a stench. All summer long the signal station had issued warnings and proclamations. Water-carriers at construction sites fainted from heatstroke and were carried off on stretchers. Coal and lumberyard workers could be seen at noon, shirtless, wading into the oceanic blue of Lake Michigan. People spread rugs on their stoops to eat supper in the open air, watching, with something that approached religious awe, the horse-drawn ice wagons ...
Bright and Distant Shores fits well into the tradition of travel narratives, where cultures clash and moral ambiguity is the order of the day. Lives and fortunes are risked, the innocent come to knowledge, and everyone discovers more about themselves than they do about the 'other' they go looking for. Smith does a good job of building a compelling narrative while feeding our desire for the bizarre and fascinating.
(Reviewed by Beverly Melven).
In Bright and Distant Shores, Dominic Smith references some of the historic people and events that helped shape Chicago around the turn of the 20th century. Read on for more information about these fascinating institutions:
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