Kindred ~ by Rebecca Waggs Sykes

This kind of nonfiction is not my favorite – it’s pretty “creative” in terms of writing style and that sometimes interferes with my enjoyment.  It makes me switch back and forth between aesthetic enjoyment and factual detail and the main thrust of Kindred is very detailed.  Adding in some “creative” passages is like watching the wide wonderful ocean and considering the chemical make-up of the drops of water at the same time. It’s like hearing church music in your head and thinking about the construction of the sound system which transmits it.  This book asks the reader to imagine Neanderthal as he man hunts or watches the stars while almost simultaneously examining the details of his bone fragments and where they lie. 

Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art
By Rebecca Wragg Sykes 
2020 / 382 pages
Read by the author
Rating:  8.5 / science-archeology 

I understand why Sykes did it this way – she wants to impart the “magic” of the imagined while detailing the specifics of the measurable. But that’s like trying to observe a single grain of sand at the same time as you view the whole beach.  Just trying to do it interferes with doing it at all.  

So she fleshes out the narrative with a lot of fictional literary prose. I’ve seen this done in other archeology books, like House of Rain by Craig Childs where the author simply wandered off into the poetic from time to time – the way he wandered into various places on the desert. I think it’s the natural element that does it as well as trying to really understand another era. The author doesn’t want to ignore the emotional impact of the subject he’s studying whether it be the sensory delight of his own rose garden, the majesty of a medieval cathedral or the freedom of the prehistoric wanderer.

Skaggs doesn’t ever go over into memoir however and that’ s kind of nice – nothing at all against those authors who do.  

“As a flint-dark sky lightens to grey dawn, soft coos of rock doves clash with the keening of lost gulls, crying like hungry children.”   (Page 9) 

“Most astonishing is the 10,000-year-old cultural memory in Australian coastal communities that the oceans rose at the end of the last ice age. Perhaps Neanderthals too ‘remembered’ how the world of their ancestors changed through millennial-scale climate shifts, and found stories in constellations no living person has seen.”  (Page 218) 

Thankfully these kinds of passages are kept in the small sections which introduce each chapter. 

The remainder of the chapters does get detailed specifics about the landscapes, the bones, the tools, the food, the deaths and so forth.  Actually, she goes over and over it almost repetitiously but there’s always something new so not really repetitious.   

Sometimes I was enthralled and other times, when the detail got a bit much, I was almost sleeping.  

Yes, this is an excellent book if you’re interested in the subject, which I am to a certain extent, although perhaps not as much as Skyles.  

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