The story of John Franklin’s doomed 1845 attempt to discover a Northwest Passage, from the National Book Award-winning author of Europe Central
Vaulting through time to another flashpoint in the long struggle between Indians and Europeans, William T. Vollmann’s visionary fictional history now focuses on the white explorers of the mid-1800s, desperately dreaming of forging a Northwest Passage. As Sir John Franklin embarks on his fourth Arctic voyage, he defies the warnings of the native people, and his journey ends in ice and death. But his spirit lingers in the Canadian north, where 150 years later, in 1990, Inuit elders dream of long-gone seal-hunting days and teenagers sniff gasoline. And when a white man seduces and leaves pregnant a young Indian woman, he becomes Franklin reincarnated, bound for the same fate. Vollmann’s vivid characters and landscapes weave together the stories of the past and present to live out America’s ongoing tragedy of greed, ignorance, and violence.
“The form and sweep of the novel beg comparison to Moby-Dick . . . Nothing prepares you for the visceral chill of The Rifles.” –Atlanta Journal & Constitution
“Striking . . . The Rifles recreates the heroic, harrowing dimensions, tragic, fatuous, and comic of the Franklin expedition. . . . It presents a vivid picture of life in the Arctic Circle today, both what seems eternal about it and what has changed.” –The Boston Globe
“An ambitious literary gambit. . . Sharp, often lyrical, and sometimes achingly beautiful.” –The Washington Post