Bright and Distant Shores
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.
Bright and Distant Shores
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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... see more
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Reading Group Guide
In 1897 Chicago, an insurance magnate who has just built the world’s tallest building sponsors a sea voyage into Melanesia to gather artifacts for his private collection. He wants to outdo his rival Marshall Field’s museum by bringing back not only artifacts, but indigenous people for a rooftop exhibition. 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 leaves waiting in Chicago, and Argus Niu, a mission houseboy from the New Hebrides. As the century draws to a close, the two young men and their cultures are set on a collision course.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
- Discuss Owen and Adelaide’s relationship, and how it is affected by their different social and economic statuses. How are their views of each other influenced by each other’s perception, rather than the reality of their feelings?
- Discuss the similarities and differences between how Owen and Argus deal with being orp