‘Manituana’, Wu Ming
The problem with historical fiction is that in most occasions the reader is having severe difficulties separating ‘history’ from ‘fiction’. A rule which most people assume when they read historical fiction is that whatever has to do with ‘people’ is fiction, while anything in the narration that deals with events is ‘history’. But needless to say this is such a dangerous road that can lead to both a misconception of the historical facts of the era, and the actual scope of the novel.
This kind of separation is almost impossible in a book like Manituana – or in William Vollmann’s masterpiece Europe Central. Both these books deal with a conflict, a war that shaped the things to come in the future, and both deal with elements of ‘civilization’ and/or ‘violence’ as part of the defining characteristic of the human spirit. Both these novels, are meant to confuse the reader on what can be characterized as a fact that deterministicaly controls the future and what is pure chance – in the way contingency is so much part of human history.
Manituana deals with the american civil war, one of the two ‘mechanistic’ civil revolutions of the 18th century, so it is only natural that contingency had nothing to do with this era – or this interpretation of things. Narrated from the side of the Indians who were ‘caught in the middle’ of this conflict ande were more or less pushed into choosing a side it revels the backstage of the negotiations between the ‘civilized’ British and the ‘savage’ Indians – only the reader shortly realized how wrong these characterizations may as a matter of fact be.
There are many ways in which a reader can view Manituana and its quite possible that Wu Ming intended it to be some sort of political comment on the current ‘civilized’ vs ‘savage’ situation of the world. Whichever way you decide to view it the reading experience at the end is totally gratifying.