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The tale of a native son

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To be sure, Cooper's résumé is intriguing: a white boy sold into service at age 12 at an Indian trading post by an aunt and uncle, forced to wander through the wilderness, and eventually adopted by a Cherokee tribesman.

Later on, Cooper dabbles in jobs ranging from self-made legal eagle to state senator, with ample time devoted to lobbying in Washington on behalf of the Cherokees. He also boasts an impressive business career built on an expanding chain of trade and general stores and dabbles in lucrative land speculation.

Frazier's narrator is gifted when roaming the mountains and dense forests of the Appalachians. He proves equally adept with cultural endeavors, rummaging through favored Latin verses, quoting Byron and, in Lincolnesque fashion, spending cold winter nights exhausting the works of Cervantes, Homer, Virgil, and other literary eminences.

Armed with this Renaissance man, Frazier pulls the reader in with the story of Cooper's early days as an orphan and the day-to-day fright of living in an alien (and soon-to-be doomed) culture. As the narrator reflects on his early days among the Cherokees and the daunting geography, he notes, "Seven layers of mountains faded off in diminishing orders of blue to the west. I stood and looked at the place and imagined it all pitch black, and I was afraid."

Though Cooper, like his real-life counterpart, gains control of some lands and is able to keep a small clutch of Cherokees from being removed in the "Trail of Tears" march westward, the drama fails to resonate in Frazier's depiction. He has the obligatory historical novel cameos down pat: Here is a glimpse of the nefarious Andrew Jackson, the backer of the infamous Indian Removal Act, there are the disunited resistance leaders John Ross and Major Ridge, and so on.

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