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The Last Bookaneer

The Last Bookaneer - Matthew Pearl An adventure story with clever villains trying to outwit each other in the pursuit of literature, The Last Bookaneer describes these book pirates trying to define what literature should be to the populace, and what the relationship of author, work, and readers should be. Each character in this book is a Romantic in his own way, but their different passions lead them to compete violently, treacherously. The story is constantly playing with the idea of honor, playing with our perceptions of what it is and who may have it. Power also plays a central role: when white men such as Stevenson venture to the South Pacific and set up little kingdoms for themselves, is power really what they're after? Who has the power and when? And if they're after power, can they really be sorted out from the other colonial powers they fight against?

I wanted to read this story as soon as I heard about bookaneers -- extremely well-read pirates of literature. It did not disappoint -- this is what historical fiction should be. Pearl constantly debates what a book is -- so much more than a book -- and what it does for its readers, as individuals and communities. The action did flag here and there, making the book feel a little overlong, but the richness of the language, the intrigue of the story, and the flow of bookish ideas never abated, so I enjoyed every page. The setting, primarily in Samoa, made everything feel other-worldly, but the descriptions of it made it feel real, foreign or not. This is truly a reader's read.

I got a free copy of this from the First to Read program.