My review essay on Carl Hoffman’s Savage Harvest and the enduring quest to solve the Michael Rockefeller mystery is now up on Slate. It’s partly a book review, partly a recollection of my own Asmat adventure, and partly an attempt to grapple with the problematic questions—historical, cultural, linguistic, colonial, narrative—that underlie this seemingly evergreen story. An excerpt:
“I believe I’ve solved it,” says Carl Hoffman in the book trailer for Savage Harvest, his investigation into the mysterious disappearance of 23-year-old heir Michael Rockefeller off the south coast of New Guinea in 1961. It’s a bold claim: The Rockefeller disappearance has become known as one of the 20th century’s most enduring unsolved mysteries, catnip for generations of journalists and adventurers, all looking to answer the same question: Did Rockefeller drown trying to swim to the marshy shore of the Asmat region after his boat capsized (the family’s official story), or did he make land, there to be killed and eaten by the very Asmat people whose art and carvings he had been collecting? His last words before diving in and swimming toward shore, uttered to a companion who stayed with their overturned craft and was rescued the following day: “I think I can make it.”
Did Michael make it? Probably. Has Hoffman solved it? Sort of. In both cases, it’s complicated.
Read the rest here.
And if you’re looking for a more straight up review of Savage Harvest, there’s no shortage of them out there. Joshua Hammer reviewed it in the New York Times Book Review this past weekend, following Bill Gifford in the Washington Post, Roger Lowenstein in the Wall Street Journal, and a host of others.
And while my review is less straightforward than the others, I generally agree with their assessment: this is a book worth reading.