Quebec Studies

Book Reviews

Quebec Studies (2006), 41, (1), 117–130.


117 Book Reviews History, Culture, and Politics BLUM, RONY. Ghost Brothers, Adoption of a French Tribe by Bereaved Native America: A Transdisciplinary Longitudinal Multilevel Integrated Analysis. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's UP, 2005. Pp. 448. ISBN 0-7735-2828-8. In Ghost Brothers, Rony Blum argues that shared loss among Native Americans (brought on by new European diseases) and the French in New France (who had suffered through widespread disease episodes in Europe) led them to forge alliances and adapt cultural practices from one another — the "ghosts" of the past led to new understandings. This is a very short précis of what is a long and complex argument presented in jargon-ridden and overwrought prose. The book is less a work of history and more of a postmodern musing upon a colonial past; it relies on sociological, psychological, and postcolonial theories, to name but a few. The work is consciously present-minded and its ultimate aim seems to be to find in Native-French relations a model for cooperation and goodwill in today's contentious world. That is, death in New France was turned into a means of finding peace and not continued war, and we should all learn from that example. Any work that approaches the past with a clear theory to test runs the risk of making the past fit the theory and, at best, blurs distinctions. This is true of this work. In looking for the basis of cooperation, the various, and very destructive, relations between the Natives and the French are overlooked. Leaving aside the dislocation caused by contact, missionary efforts, and the fur trade, the French actively sought to destroy several Native groups (the Fox and Chickasaws among them). There is no mention of this situation, nor any analysis of why the "ghosts" failed to arrange peace in such instances. There is also a disconcerting blurring of Native cultural differences with regard to death, for example, and an alarming practice of making sweeping declarative statements about what people thought or believed without evidence to support those conclusions. The book, to be sure, is heavily documented (the notes and bibliography account for well over a third of its length), but much of the reference material is to the secondary literature that forms the theoretical backbone of the work. If one can accept that much of the theory of human behavior developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century — informed as it was by the cultural conditions of its times — can be applied to the people of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and to a wide array of different cultures, most not of the "western" tradition, then one might find Blum's argument persuasive. But the reality is that much of the argument is extremely speculative and as ephemeral as the "ghosts" to which she so often refers. José Antonio Brandâo Western Michigan University

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