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Friday, June 16, 2017

The Last Neanderthal...Review

From the author of The Bear, the enthralling story of two women separated by millennia, but linked by an epic journey that will transform them both.

40,000 years in the past, the last family of Neanderthals roams the earth. After a crushingly hard winter, their numbers are low, but Girl, the oldest daughter, is just coming of age and her family is determined to travel to the annual meeting place and find her a mate.

But the unforgiving landscape takes its toll, and Girl is left alone to care for Runt, a foundling of unknown origin. As Girl and Runt face the coming winter storms, Girl realizes she has one final chance to save her people, even if it means sacrificing part of herself.

In the modern day, archaeologist Rosamund Gale works well into her pregnancy, racing to excavate newly found Neanderthal artifacts before her baby comes. Linked across the ages by the shared experience of early motherhood, both stories examine the often taboo corners of women's lives.

Haunting, suspenseful, and profoundly moving, The Last Neanderthal asks us to reconsider all we think we know about what it means to be human.

I have so many thoughts. This book has stayed with me for days. Literally days. I have sat down and tried to write this review more than once and the words just escape me.

How do I explain the ways this book moved me? How do I convey the ways this book made me think and question? I don't know that I can.

The Neanderthals have always fascinated me, especially from a creation perspective. Where do they fit into our biological history? Who were they? Our knowledge of them has always been scant and speculative, as is much of archaeology, but in recent years, we are discovering more. Claire Cameron does an amazing job of bringing these fascinating people to life. She incorporates new information, such as how they looked, how they communicated, how they hunted, and how they lived.

Modern-day archaeologist Rosamund has discovered two skeletons side by side in a cave: a Neanderthal and a Homo Sapien. Her quest is to find out how they came to be deliberately buried together in the same location.

Thus, the story alternates between the past and present narratives of Girl and Rosamund.

The colorful, rich descriptions of Girl's life and her family were brilliantly portrayed. I could imagine walking where she walked and experiencing what she did. The family dynamics were fascinating: how the strongest survived, how they hunted and lived together. How mates were chosen and for what reasons. These people didn't have the vocal abilities we do and likely not the language capabilities that we have, but they communicated. They understood, and they were intelligent.

Honestly, I could have done without Rosamund's story. I get the comparison that the author wanted to make: both women becoming mothers, both women being the strong and capable, but Rosamund was an incredibly selfish and unlikeable character. Compared with Girl's complexities, Rosamund is a shallow caricature of a woman, without the strength or depth that the author desperately wanted to show. The comparison is laughable.

These Neanderthals come from a strong matriarchal society. It is the female who leads the family group. It is the female who teaches and guides and instructs. It is the female who decides with which male she will mate. Girl's mother also adopts an orphan boy. A child unlike them, with a different look and without the same strength. But compassion is stronger than differences and Runt, the Homo Sapien child, becomes part of Girl's family and, eventually, under her care.

Because of the discovery of the skeletons in the beginning, we know that Girl ends up at some point meeting an adult Homo Sapien. And I looked forward to that. I, too, wanted to know who this other person was and how they were together? Was it romantic? Was it out of necessity for them both to survive? I wanted to know how Girl ended up being the last Neanderthal.

Unfortunately, I found the ending disappointing and without the answers I sought.

I relish books about the strength of women. I love seeing them triumph in their own right and not because of a man or a romantic relationship. The Last Neanderthal is at its strongest when we're reading about Girl. Her story is tragic and harsh, but with moments of tender poignancy. For that perspective alone, even with the disappointing ending, I can wholeheartedly recommend this story.

This was my personal copy, not a book for review.

Read 5/17

* * * *
4/5 Stars

2 comments:

  1. I would never have considered this book before reading your review; now, I might pick it up.

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    Replies
    1. I hope you do. It was one that surprised me in many ways.

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