Thirteen Moons is the sophomore novel by Charles Frazier, who previously had critical and commercial success with Cold Mountain. Like his first novel, the book is set in the 19th century and in the Appalachian Mountains, but it has a wider focus. The novel tells the story of William Cooper, a fictionalized version of the historical figure William Holland Thomas. Cooper is a white man adopted into a tribe of Cherokee, and the novel recounts his life amongst the Cherokee and in the surrounding culture. Some historical events and personages are treated at great length, while others are merely mentioned in passing.
There are several possible great books in this book, but none of them win over. While the book is easy to read, and the unfolding of the story is interesting, I was unable to find an overall focus of the book. Is the book meant to demonstrate the character of Cooper, how his flaws and virtues balanced each other out? Is it meant mostly to be about the clash between the white culture and the native people? Is it meant to be a mosaic of sorts, showing the rich scope of history without discrimination? Or is it, oh dread, meant to be a love story? Because if it is, it suffers the same fate that many love stories by much lesser authors suffer: telling, instead of showing, why the love is so important. In all cases, while the book moves along, and it has lovely (and saddening) descriptive passages, the overall emotional import of the book was left hidden to me.
My opinions on the book were somewhat softened when I read that I was not alone in finding it slightly lackluster. Apparently, after a gigantic advance and a large print run, only half of the copies printed were sold. Hopefully Charles Frazier will recover from this mis-step with his next novel.