Publisher’s Weekly Review
Playwright Sargent’s debut novel is a stylish look at the fate of Sacagawea’s baby son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, the first Native American to tour Europe—as a curiosity and entertainment, of course. Twenty-four-year-old Sacagawea, though married, becomes William Clark’s lover while helping guide the Lewis and Clark Expedition; after she dies on the trail, Clark adopts her son, Baptiste. Soon, Clark establishes his home in St. Louis, as well as a garish museum dedicated to his expedition, and sets to educating his new son. Soon, Baptiste is traveling Europe under the protection of Duke Paul, a cruel man who, when he isn’t exhibiting the boy to royal courts, repeatedly rapes young Baptiste. Six years later, Baptiste returns to America (astonishingly, still accompanied by Paul), where he confronts Clark over his mother’s mysterious death; unsatisfied and restless, Baptiste heads west and finds work as a fur trapper, an Army scout and gold prospector. Increasingly haunted by his mother, Baptiste revisits her in memories and visions that lend themselves nicely to Sargent’s lyrical prose. With historical cameos (Beethoven, Kit Carson, Washington Irving) and an impressively rounded portrait of the laid-back, introspective, nomadic Baptiste, this novel will satisfy fans of American history.
– Publishers Weekly
Starred Review of Museum of Human Beings in Library Journal
Sargent, Colin. Museum of Human Beings. McBooks c.352p. ISBN 978-1-59013-167-1. $23.95. F
In 1805, Lewis and Clark embarked on one of the most fantastic journeys in American history. Even today their expedition of discovery continues to captivate our imagination as well as our fascination with the mysterious Shoshone guide, Sacagawea. For approximately two years, Sacagawea, traveling with her infant son Jean-Baptiste, endured the harsh challenges of the American wilderness as she led the expedition forward. This debut novel, based on historical facts, focuses on Jean-Baptiste and his struggle to find his identity. The boy’s education (sponsored by Clark), his travels with European nobility, and his return to his own roots as a guide and explorer are vividly brought to life. From the beginning to the novel’s spellbinding conclusion, playwright and poet Sargent allows us an intimate glimpse into what could have been the heart of Jean-Baptiste. This memorable novel will captivate all who read it. Highly recommended for all public library historical fiction collections.-Melody Ballard, Pima Cty. P.L., AZ
– Library Journal,
Virginian Pilot: The Son of Sacagawea Comes To Life in Rich, Epic Tale
By Allan C. Hanrahan
Special to The Virginian-Pilot
As the late Paul Harvey used to intone on the radio, “And now you know … the rest of the story.” In “Museum of Human Beings,” at least, we enjoy an excellent fictionalized version of a historical personage, well-researched and brought to life by Colin Sargent – a poet and playwright who, as it happens, did some of his work on the book in Norfolk.
This is the epic story of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, son of Toussaint Charbonneau and the legendary Sacagawea, Shoshone guide for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Tucked into his papoose, we’re told, Jean-Baptiste heard his mother say: “We will walk as one. We crossed the mountains as one. The wind will warm our passage. We will always be together.”
Launched by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the land of the Louisiana Purchase in the early 1800s, the journey produced many of the artifacts that later were collected at William Clark’s Museum of Human Beings, in St. Louis. In Sargent’s story, the museum becomes a place of respect and permanence.
This interesting chronicle holds some familiarities for modern readers. Extended, blended and truncated families have always existed in U.S. history, and that holds true for Baptiste, as he is called. He’s the son of an Indian woman and a French-Canadian, ward of William Clark, half-brother to Lizette, and with brotherly ties to Clark’s two sons. There is poignancy in the relationships as the story unfolds, because of his insecurity and his efforts to succeed and excel in order to gain Clark’s approval and love.
He vows to himself, “From this moment on I will double my efforts to make you proud of me Father Clark, or at least notice me. I will become a gentleman as you have never seen.”
Baptiste’s efforts lead to a journey to Europe in order to attain culture. He succeeds, but the adolescent is exhibited, exploited and brutalized by his mentor Duke Paul, (Friedrich Wilhelm, Prince of Wurttemberg). This sorry situation reveals the decadence and corruption of the Old World in contrast to the harsh, brutal innocence and naivete of the New.
Still, there are colorful adventures while in Europe, and happiness in the arms of his poetic beloved. But there is tragedy as well, and a journey and sojourn with a band of Gypsies.
Eventually, again in the company of Duke Paul and his retainer Vogelweide, Baptiste returns to America. His life – and adventures – continue: trapping for John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Co., for example, and guiding for Col. Cooke, later to be the father-in-law of Jeb Stuart. Other historical figures move in and out of the tale, like Jim Bridger, Kit Carson and Longfellow, to name a few.
This is a rich, epic tale, and Sargent, molding his fiction on a framework of historical research, has masterfully fleshed out that baby on his mother’s back – both immortalized on the Sacagawea dollar coin – so that we have one idea, the author’s, of who Baptiste was, how he lived, and how he might have died, at the last hearing: “We will always be together.”
Allan C. Hanrahan is a freelance writer in Smithfield.
Q&A with Colin W. Sargent
– Erica Smith, Books editor
Colin Sargent worked on his novel – “Museum of Human Beings” – perched, in part, in “the top of the little tower” of a home on Mowbray Arch in Norfolk’s Hague area. Otherwise he’s a Mainer; in Portland, where he lives with wife Nancy and their dog, he edits a magazine and is working on his next novel.
His ties to Tidewater came, as they so often do, through the Navy.
He told The Pilot by e-mail: “A midshipman, I came in 1974 and was stationed here off and on through 1983. When I moved to my native Portland, Maine, I founded Portland Magazine, but we’ve managed to return for several weeks every year.”
More thoughts from Colin Sargent:
Q. You’re a poet, playwright, magazine editor (Portland Magazine in Maine) and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. What drew you to the subject of Sacagawea’s son?
A. I’m drawn to outsiders denied a voice in our national mythology. “Photo-op history,” while comforting, left Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau without an adulthood. This novel illuminates the “happily ever after” of the Expedition Papoose – this child star of the Lewis & Clark Voyage of Discovery. In the company of a German prince, he was seduced into parading through Europe as a half-gentleman, half-savage. He studied classical piano and mastered seven languages. Disillusioned, he returned to the U.S. and became a trapper, guide, mayor, and Army hero. But because his mother was famous, he’s an eternal infant.
Q. What were your greatest challenges with this novel?
A. Trying to give voice to a Native American without romanticizing him and trying to humanize the hero William Clark without demonizing him.
Q. You worked on the book in Norfolk? How did that come about?
A. Norfolk’s very dear to my private history. Here, my wife and I met as naval officers, and our son was born. I’ve worked on much of the novel at the top of the little tower at 412 Mowbray Arch, the place where we’ve returned to honeymoon for the last 30 years. The sea chapters were enriched by my experiences on the USS Kalamazoo.
Q. What’s next?
A. Set in 1922, my next novel begins in Naples, Italy, and continues on the Eastern Seaboard. My protagonist, marooned by history, is swept out of style by a cultural practice that goes from fashionable to repugnant – as all styles eventually do.
Boston Globe: “Sacagawea’s Son”
Like most Americans, Colin Sargent was familiar with the depiction of Sacagawea as both explorer and doting mother, showing Lewis and Clark the wonders of the Louisiana Purchase with a papoose slung around her shoulder. Then he realized that baby had to have grown up.
Sargent tries to give Sacagawea’s son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, a fair shake in “Museum of Human Beings,’’ a fictionalized account of his life that explores his relationship with adoptive father William Clark and his time on display as a “half-gentleman, half savage’’ in Europe.
Sargent, the founding editor of Portland Magazine in Portland, Maine, called the book “a picture of a man struggling to emerge from the shadow of his celebrity mom,’’ comparing Charbonneau’s quest for acceptance to the plight of modern-day rich-and-famous offspring such as Stella McCartney or musician Jakob Dylan.
Sargent will discuss “Museum of Human Beings’’ at the Mattapan Branch Library, 1350 Blue Hill Ave., Boston, Friday at noon.
From The Reviewer, A Book Blog
Lately I have found myself displeased with the quality of book I am finding in the library or, when funds allow, in the bookstore. There don’t seem to be anymore books that touch my heart, that make me feel as if I have found a kindred spirit. There don’t seem to be very many books that I would read and reread over and over until I have almost every line memorized.I was wrong. MUSEUM OF HUMAN BEINGS touched me in the same way that Atlas Shrugged or The Handmaid’s Tale has. I read this book everywhere. I read it in the doctor’s office, at football practice, even in the car while stuck in traffic. I carried this book in my purse for almost two weeks because I liked to read certain passages over and over.
MUSEUM OF HUMAN BEINGS is the fictionalized biography of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, the child of Sacagawea and interpreter Toussaint Charbonneau, and raised in the home of William Clark. The book follows Baptiste as he is raised in the home of Clark, thinking he is no different than the white children but quickly learning that his heritage will always separate him from his “father” and from his native people. He goes to Europe as an example of the New World’s native people, returns home to confront the family that rejected him, the family he rejected and to try and make a place for himself. The book ends with his death as an old man who seems to have discovered who he really is. The most moving part of this book is that Baptiste always acknowledges that he does not know himself, even when he thinks that he has learned something new he really is discovering things he already knew.
This book is really a discussion about the definition of a person. It asks: Who determines who we are? Is one defined by their heritage? By their skin tone? By their cultural upbringing? Baptiste is a renaissance man. He speaks several languages fluently, a few more passably, plays the piano and violin professionally, has traveled the world and yet he is consistently treated as a ‘savage’ and not as a real human being. It is only when he begins to discard the self-loathing he learned at the hands of his adopted family and those he was raised around that Baptiste is able to become his own person and learn to be comfortable as he is.
As a person of color I can relate to Baptiste. It is easier sometimes to allow people to define you and to fall into those definitions rather than being whoever it is you want to be. As I have aged I have learned that only I can define myself and limit myself but it is a difficult lesson to learn. More books should be as honest as MUSEUM OF HUMAN BEINGS and explore the prejudices and attitudes that lead to hatred and self-loathing.
The Local, Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Get Lit, by Michelle Dover
“The Amazing Adventures of Human Beings”
Yes, yes, we all love the founding fathers of the United States of America. Their biographies always have a hold list at the library when they arrive from the publishers. Authors do a brilliant job of recreating these men’s lives through the plethora of documents left behind.
Ask yourself: Was my great, great, great grandma perched on the end of her rocking chair worshipping the founding fathers? Was that same grandma working her knitting needles impatiently waiting for news about their latest speech? Remember that great grandma couldn’t even vote, maybe grandma couldn’t even read, maybe grandma didn’t have access to news and information. Maybe grandma was doing the laundry on a rock in the river.
In the last decade more and more readers have turned to historical fiction to fill in the gaps left in history. People want to see their working class immigrant family, their African-Americans ancestors in and out of slavery, women and children.
Historical fiction is a good bet in the publishing industry these days having won some of the major literary awards of the past several years. Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, the winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, set in 1930s New York; Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin (1930s Canada) and Peter Carey’s The True History of the Kelly Gang (19th century Australia), were the winners of the 2000 and 2001 Booker Prize, respectively.
Also, a growing number of historic novels have become bright stars for publishers over the past few years, and these works have given the field an ever-increasing audience. Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (set in 17th century Delft), Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha (set in early 20th century Japan), Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent (set in Biblical times).
For minorities and women historical fiction helps place them in history, thus reclaiming a past that isn’t readily available in the history books.
Dennis Lehane, The Given Day
Set in Boston at the end of the First World War, The Given Day follows the experiences of a family whose lives mirror the political unrest of an America caught between its well-patterned past and an unpredictable future. Coursing through some of the pivotal events of the time—including the Spanish Influenza pandemic—and culminating in the Boston Police Strike of 1919. A compelling narrative, with richly drawn characters.
Sally Gunning, Bound:
A young indentured servant in pre–Revolutionary War Massachusetts escapes her brutal master and begins a new life on Cape Cod. Life, however, is far from simple, and the ensuing drama forces the young girl to grapple with what it means to pursue personal freedom. What’s more, as she struggles to integrate past and present, the era’s sexual politics and religious and political fervor come alive.
Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project
On March 2, 1908, nineteen-year-old Lazarus Averbuch, a recent Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe to Chicago, knocked on the front door of the house of George Shippy, the chief of Chicago police. When Shippy came to the door, Averbuch offered him what he said was an important letter. Instead of taking the letter, Shippy shot Averbuch twice, killing him. When Shippy released a statement casting Averbuch as a would-be anarchist assassin and agent of foreign political operatives, he all but set off a city and a country already simmering with ethnic and political tensions. A provocative, and entertaining novel.
Colin Sargent, Museum of Human Beings
In 1805, Lewis and Clark embarked on one of the most fantastic journeys in American history. For approximately two years, Sacagawea, traveling with her infant son Jean-Baptiste, endured the harsh challenges of the American wilderness as she led the expedition forward. The novel focuses on Jean-Baptiste and his struggle to find his identity. The boy’s education (sponsored by Clark), his travels with European nobility, and his return to his own roots as a guide and explorer are vividly brought to life.
Kathleen Kent, The Heretic’s Daughter
Martha Carrier was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and willful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live. Often at odds with one another, mother and daughter are forced to stand together against the escalating hysteria of the trials and the superstitious tyranny that led to the torture and imprisonment of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft. This is the story of Martha’s courageous defiance and ultimate death, as told by the daughter who survived.
ForeWord Magazine, May/June 2009 issue, page 26
“Different Worlds: First Time Novelists Transport Readers”
How many novels by first-time authors are published each year? Do not seek to know the answers, Grasshopper, but to understand the questions. What does “published” mean these days, or even “author”?
Is James Patterson an author? Is Ron Blagojevich? Ah, let’s not dwell. Here, we’ve collected a bookshelf of literary fiction by writers who can now, in all seriousness, call themselves authors.
Museum of Human Beings
History buffs and elementary-aged children alike are enthralled with the Corps of Discovery’s 1803 transcontinental crossing undertaken by Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and crew. Scholars have increasingly recognized the young Shoshone woman Sacajawea as a pivotal leader in this expedition. Here, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, the infant on Sacajawea’s back, takes his own personal voyage of self-discovery as he is fostered by Clark in St. Louis, supported by Duke Paul of Württemberg in Europe, and haunted by his mother’s spirit in the American wilderness. Playwright and poet Colin Sargent resides in Portland, Maine, where he founded Portland magazine. His sophisticated use of language permeates this tale. For example, the color blue is used to create a path and stimulate memory: From the descriptions of the first sighting of the Pacific Ocean to the final viewing of an arrowhead around a baby’s neck, the color travels alongside Baptiste. “[Sacajawea’s] rib cage, so like a bird’s, bore the blue stigmata of your father’s most recent attentions,” Clark tells Baptiste. Sacajawea’s blue Lemhi beaded belt indicates her descent from a royal family, and Baptiste’s baby sister Lizette is wrapped in the same blue cloth that had originally warmed him.
Sargent explores language in another way at the opening of each chapter by displaying a Plains Indian
sign language word along with its description. For example, to indicate “alone,” a person should “…hold right hand palm up in front of neck. Move outward in sinuous motion.” As Baptiste roams figuratively and literally, his two father-figures torment him: the distant William Clark, whom he initially strives to emulate, and the alcoholic Toussaint Charbonneau, whom he cannot escape. The age-old struggle to find true identity by testing different worlds becomes unique in this debut novel that belongs with the best of historical fiction.
–Beth Hemke Shapiro
“There’s so much to recommend this book. Fans of American historicals such as James Thom or Allan Eckert will definitely enjoy this, but so would fans of T. C. Boyle or William Vollmann or Wayne Johnston as well. Literate historical Americana–what a treat!”
– Five-star rating on Amazon.com
Son of Sacagawea–Colin Sargent’s debut novel
By Deborah Murphy, Times Record
PORTLAND — In his debut novel, “Museum of Human Beings,” Colin Sargent tells a compelling story of American identity lost and found through the historical figure of Sacagawea’s son. Sargent, an award-winning publisher, playwright, and poet who lives in Portland, will read from and discuss his book today at 12 p.m. at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath.
Sacagawea is a familiar figure in American popular culture: Her image is blazoned on a commemorative gold dollar coin, and her story as the heroic guide of the Lewis and Clark Expedition has been told in countless history books, poems, novels, and even, most recently, in popular children’s movies through her cameo appearances in the “Night at the Museum” comedies.
But the story of her son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, who is also featured on the dollar coin as an infant carried on his mother’s back, has largely been lost to history.
In “Museum of Human Beings,” Sargent interweaves the fascinating known facts of Baptiste Charbonneau’s life with fictional imaginings into a poetic meditation on race, identity, and personal freedom in America that has resonance today.
Baptiste was a child of mixed parentage: Sacagawea was a Shoshone who was captured in a raid by the Hidatsa tribe in what is now Idaho, and was then either sold to or won in a gambling contest by his father, the French Canadian fur trapper and guide Toussaint Charbonneau.
Baptiste was born shortly after his father was hired by the expedition in 1804; William Clark became fond of Baptiste during that two-year trek from Missouri through the previously uncharted Pacific Northwest and offered to provide for his education afterward. Baptiste was legally signed over to Clark as his ward in 1813, shortly after Sacagawea’s death from an unknown illness at the age of 25.
Sargent’s novel takes its title from the museum of Native American-related artifacts Clark kept at his St. Louis home.
Baptiste, who was educated in the European tradition, longs, in Sargent’s fictional rendering, for the respect and approval of his adoptive parent — attitudes that are not forthcoming from a Clark who is bound by the racial myopia of his day.
“Each high mark he got at school, Baptiste came right home to proudly show his parent, but Clark withdrew further into himself,” Sargent writes.
Baptiste wrestles with anger, despair and self-loathing as he realizes he will never be more than a curiosity in America: “No one expected anything of him, for they considered him a savage and imagined he had no conscience.”
In 1823, Baptiste left Clark with Clark’s blessing to travel through Europe with the German Prince Paul Wilhelm von Wurttemburg, whom he had met at Clark’s home — a decision motivated on Baptiste’s part, in Sargent’s rendering, by a desire to expand his education and acquire a gentility that would finally earn him Clark’s high regard.
For six years, the historical Baptiste did in fact tour Europe with the prince as a kind of living exhibit for Old World inhabitants curious about the “New World” of America, the first Native American so to travel.
It is a difficult passage, in Sargent’s telling, not only because, though he masters multiple languages and becomes an accomplished pianist, Baptiste ultimately fails in his quest for Clark’s approval; but also because the prince sexually abuses Baptiste (in passages definitely not for young adults).
The conclusion of this journey through Europe, both for the fictional and the historical Baptiste, marks not the end but rather the beginning of an even more extraordinary American odyssey.
Baptiste is known to have worked as a trapper for the American Fur Company in the territories of Utah and Idaho; as an army scout, guide and interpreter who traveled with James Beckwourth and John C. Fremont among other legends of the old West, and led the Mormon Battalion from New Mexico to California during the Mexican-American War; and as a government official and gold prospector.
Sargent finds in this peripatetic journey through key moments in American history a moving quest for identity: Baptiste’s initial longing for Clark’s approval turns into a search for his birth father and for his mother’s spirit and remains, and ultimately becomes the mythic search of a man who “tracks his subtler selves into the unknown.”
Sargent’s Baptiste counts “Candide” among his favorite books; as in that book, Sargent weaves actual historical events into a character’s quest for meaning in a way that speaks to both the dark and bright possibilities of human life.
Sargent’s Baptiste suffers grievous personal losses and witnesses the conquest, often through violence, of the American wilderness; the effects of slavery (Clark himself owned slaves); the destruction of natural resources; the loss of culture and ravaging of Native American populations through disease; and the difficult conditions faced by Chinese immigrants in the rapidly-urbanizing California of the 1860s.
But through these often brutal experiences Baptiste also finally comes to the point of grasping the identity he has been searching for — contradicting his father’s counsel that “to be a good tracker … you first have to know what you are looking for.”
Sargent has found, in his richly textured imagining of a singular historical figure, a moving metaphor for a country still struggling to reconcile the often painful past with the unknown, fast-moving, globalized future — yet still presenting opportunities unique in the world, however difficult and hard-won, for individual freedom and transcendence.
“Maine author’s novel gives fresh slant on young America”
REVIEW from Audience, Books: Maine Sunday Telegram
The sweeping American adventure novel “Museum of Human Beings” by Portland publisher, playwright and poet Colin Sargent is one of the most satisfying works of fiction that I have read in years. That it is written by a Maine contemporary gives this reviewer a particular, if ill-deserved, satisfaction, for I always enjoy good things springing from local ground. That it is a first novel would be difficult to believe, unless you saw Sargent’s vigorous, nicely crafted play “One Hundred Percent American Girl” in 2002.
Of the play, staged at the Arts Conservatory Theater, I will only say that it worked and worked well. Its title character, Portland born Mildred Gillars, who became World War II’s fabled Axis Sally, was vividly imagined in suburban retirement. Clearly, Sargent never piddles around.
In “Museum of Human Beings” he again goes for the heart, soul and body of a celebrated, though shadowy, historical figure.
Every American schoolchild knows Sacagawea of Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806) fame. Many will recall that she traveled with an infant son, though few will recall that his name was Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. As Sargent points out in a postscript, “Baptiste is very much in circulation today, still forever carried on his mother’s back on the Sacagawea $1 coin.”
“Museum of Human Beings,” which takes its title from Gen. William Clark’s cabinets of artifacts at his St. Louis home, is the story of early national America seen through the life and adventures of Baptiste in the years after the Lewis and Clark trek. In some weird sense, Baptiste, who grew up in the museum as a ward of Clark, is an object d’art.
Sargent sends the youthful Baptiste on a multi-leveled grand tour of discovery that never lets up or disappoints. In geographic terms, Baptiste travels to New Orleans, Paris, Germany, Malta and Fort Bent in the far American West.
On the surface, the novel is pure adrenaline. It can be read chapter to colorful chapter nonstop. Where else would you find the likes of Beethoven, Longfellow, Jim Beckwourth and Kit Carson all inhabiting the same pages? There are a few cameo appearances, but most of the historic personages are subtly sketched and add to the development of Baptiste and the narrative.
At first, the book put me in a mind of a boyhood favorite, Mika Waltari’s “The Adventurer.” Like the protagonist in that book, Baptiste works his way through changing environments and personal situations that always seem right to the reader. Baptiste is the ultimate outsider “Washi” (half-breed to Indians) or “Indianer” to Germans, and is always searching for the identity of his natural father. That quest narrows to the cold, scientific Clark or the seemingly harmful guide Toussaint Charboneau.
It is with both depth of character and understanding of the tectonic shifts of history (as well as its little gusts), that Sargent’s real strength as a novelist emerges. Like Annie Proulx, Colin Sargent is among a handful of writers who actually care for their characters.
Toussaint could have been a cardboard cut-out villain, the dysfunctional father gone mountainman. Other writers would have made him so, perhaps with a bit of evil Franco garnish for bad measure. In the “Museum of Human Beings,” Toussaint comes off as big, brutal, extraordinary and understandable. Like him or not, he is a free, multi-edged man and no stereotype.
Indeed, Sargent revels in the uncertainty of the human comedy and no doubt takes his model for the book from Voltaire’s “Candide” (1759). But there is nothing stale or imitative about “Museum of Human Beings.” Its hero is well aware that this is not the best of all possible worlds, especially after an ocean voyage with a Duke Paul, a German traveler, which proves anything but enjoyable (except to the Duke). I should note that this is not a children’s book.
Still, even the calculating, bloodless nobleman and his servant, Vogelweide, prove complex and in their way, sadly human. What a vivid cast of characters! It makes you want to travel back in time.
With wit, humor, detailed understanding of the time, imagination and uncomplicated storytelling, Sargent opens a door on an era when Beethoven and the Plains Indian culture were in their twilight and glory and the United States was trying to assert its own identity as well. In 1840, Harrison ran for President as “Old Tippecanoe” the Indian fighter and the “American Cincinnatus,” for the Latin farmer who saved Rome.
In 1855, Longfellow wrote “Hiawatha,” an American Indian epic, but his style and form remained Virgilian. All this is unseen bone and muscle beneath the handsome, full skin of Sargent’s richly imagined, thoroughly enjoyable novel.
– William David Barry, Pyrrhus Venture for the Maine Sunday Telegram
Seattle Post Intelligencer: Books: “Museum of Human Beings”
Colin Sargent. McBooks.
352 pages. $23.95.
This book, the first by Colin Sargent, is based on the life of Sacagawea’s son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. As every schoolchild learns, Sacagawea was the Indian guide who led the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific Ocean. She carried her infant son on her back. Sargent’s novel is a work of imagination that draws on the extraordinary details of Charbonneau’s life. After the expedition, the boy lived with William Clark’s family and attended school. He spent a few years in Europe with a German nobleman before returning to a life on the American frontier. December Seattle Post Intelligencer, quoting from The Boston Globe
Boston Globe: “Son of the Frontier”
“Shelf Life,” Books: The Boston Globe
Museum of Human Beings (McBooks), a first novel by Portland, Maine, publisher, playwright, and poet Colin Sargent, is based on the life of Sacagawea’s son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. As every schoolchild learns, Sacagawea was the Indian guide who led the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific. She carried her infant son on her back.
Sargent’s novel is a work of imagination that draws on the extraordinary details of Charbonneau’s life. After the expedition, the boy lived with William Clark’s family and attended school. He spent a few years in Europe with a German nobleman before returning to a life on the American frontier.
Next month Sargent heads to Washington, D.C., to read from his novel at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
– Jan Gardner, in Ideas, Books/The Boston Globe
Review: The Denver Post
“Regional Fiction,” Books
Museum of Human Beings, by Colin Sargent, $23.95. Using Lewis and Clark’s amazing trek as its springboard, Colin Sargent centers on Sacagawea, the journey’s guide. Actually, it focuses on Sacagawea’s son, Jean Baptiste, who began his life on that fateful voyage.
Jean Baptiste’s mother had told Pomp — her nickname for him — that the Indian must be helpful but not too smart because, “It makes a bad impression.” But, upon her death, Clark sends the boy to a Catholic school until, on the threshold of manhood, he becomes the traveling companion of Friedrich Wilhem, Prince of Wurttemberg.
By now, Baptiste speaks several languages fluently and has come to know the ways of the world. Yet he feels compelled to discover his roots, and he returns to America’s Western wilderness.
Strongly reflecting the author’s ability as a playwright and poet, “Museum of Beings” is rich with unusual historical detail. Clark is presented as a far more intriguing and complex man than standard history would have us know. It is a fascinating and ultimately tragic tale of a usually forgotten player in this country’s story.
– Sybil Downing,
Authors on Museum of Human Beings
…“Yikes, there’s a market for this. It’s timely, it has feminist appeal, it has race appeal, it’s so American. The direction of American Literature has been from the East Coast to the West. There’s a new trend reversing this, a trend that whispers, ‘Somehow we are weary itinerants. Somehow the dream has failed.’ Museum of Human Beings is an unraveling of the patriarchy. It’s spooky like Hawthorne with a Toni-Morrison-like sense of place. It’s a huge and important story.”
– Joan Connor, AWP Award winner, for History Lessons
“In pulsating prose that triggers all of the senses, Museum of Human Beings takes us on a spirited journey to discover the far-flung life of Sacagawea’s son. Smart, imaginative, and historically-informed, this novel contains heartbreaks of many dimensions, all of them believable and thought-provoking. It captivated me, start to finish.”
– Bunny McBride, Pulitzer nominee and author of Women of the Dawn and Molly Spotted Elk: A Penobscot in Paris
“Magic. There is real heart to Museum of Human Beings, real depth and humanity, and in addition a plot that propels this reader forward. Full of polish and authority, as well as a story both cared-about and clearly imagined. I stand to applaud his talent. He’s the real thing.”
– Jack Driscoll, How Like an Angel
“A grand and interesting romp through history, an intriguing, masterfully written novel about a little-known person in history, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, the child of Sacagawea.”
– Michael C. White, Soul Catcher
In Museum of Human Beings, Colin Sargent follows the life of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacagawea, from his early childhood with the Lewis & Clark Expedition to his death. Born to an Indian mother and her French captor, he is taken as a foster child by Clark and raised at his home. There he catches the eye of a visiting Duke and is taken to Europe. Why he agrees to go with Duke Paul and to put up with being treated as a savage introduces the core of the book. The narrator focuses on Baptiste’s search for who he is and where he fits in his world. The story follows the actual travels of Baptiste and Sargent does an amazing job of creating a fascinating interior life for the man. Very well done.
– Oregonreader, Library Thing
…Beautifully written…This…is a story of dichotomies – “Injun” vs. white, the wilderness vs. civilization, the new world vs. the old, past vs. present, knowledge vs. knowing. Baptiste struggles throughout the book to find his place in these dichotomies, never bridging, always seeking to choose sides. It is a story of the labels we put on each other, and those we take on to ourselves.”
Julie Rose, Historical Novels Review