La Cañada resident Dr. Debra Grubb, a.k.a. Debra Austin, is a part-time paleoanthropology enthusiast, former obstetrician and philosopher. And if that wasn't enough syllables for you, she's an author of a provocative novel titled "Daughter of Kura." Set in Africa around the dawn of Homo erectus nearly 2 million years ago, the story provides a fascinating sociological perspective of a tribe called the Kura.
Three generations of women, Chirp, Whistle and Snap, sit as matriarchal leaders to a peaceful hunter-gatherer collective. Living seems simple but not easy, as there is a constant threat of wildlife lurking in the shadows. The tribe marks the turning of seasons with various symbolic rituals, one of which bonds them to a mate for the long winter months. Men come from surrounding tribes hoping to be selected by one of the women, forming a bond based more on need than love.
As the time comes for the bonding ritual, and for Snap to choose her first mate, two significant strangers emerge on the scene. The mate of Snap's mother Whistle does not return from hunting, forcing her to make a new choice in mate. Snap chooses an intriguing young stranger called Ash, while Whistle chooses Bapoto, a stranger claiming there is a spirit called the "Great One" that guides the fates of the living and the dead. Snap is enamored with her mate, but very skeptical of Bapoto and his theories that contradict so many of the tribe's traditions.
It isn't long before Bapoto's beliefs take hold of other tribe members, and conflicts arise between Snap and Bapoto. When he tries to force her to mate with someone else, she rebels and is banished from the village. She struggles to survive in the wild, through pregnancy and horrible weather, and begins to start a new life for herself. Soon, Bapoto's true colors emerge, and many things change not only for Kura, but for Snap and her new tribe.
One of the great things about this book is the fact that it recognizes the earliest of civilizations as being predominantly run by the matriarchs of the culture. Austin does a fantastic job of surprising the reader in the opening scene of the book, detailing a very graphic and violent hunt, and it is only after a few paragraphs the reader realizes it is a woman enacting a stereotypical "male" activity. The author subtly weaves the rise of the patriarch and religion into the disintegration of the tribe, the dissolution of trust and the concept of right and wrong. For the reader, it becomes an emotional ride through power, anger, loss and redemption.
Austin ran the risk of writing a book that parallels so many of the themes of the Jean Auel series "Clan of the Cave Bear," but managed to surpass any redundancy in her content, while developing a riveting plot and portraying many anthropological aspects in an interesting fashion. It doesn't necessarily distinguish itself as being in Africa, but is a fictitious representation of early man and how they might coexist anywhere. The characters communicate using sounds and sign language, which may or may not have been the case during the dawn of Homo erectus, but lend itself to the story quite nicely.
I was disappointed when the book came to an end, and sincerely hope the author will write more about Snap and her people in the future.
LYDA TRUICK has a masters of library and information science and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Book: "Daughter of Kura" by Debra Austin
Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, July 2010
Cost: Paperback: $16
Available: At local retailers and online