By Michael Punke
Picador, January 2015
The year is 1823, and the trappers of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company live a brutal frontier life. Trapping beaver, they contend daily with the threat of Indian tribes turned warlike over the white men’s encroachment on their land, and other prairie foes—like the unforgiving landscape and its creatures. Hugh Glass is among the Company’s finest men, an experienced frontiersman and an expert tracker. But when a scouting mission puts him face-to-face with a grizzly bear, he is viciously mauled and not expected to survive.
The Company’s captain dispatches two of his men to stay behind and tend to Glass before he dies, and to give him the respect of a proper burial. When the two men abandon him instead, taking his only means of protecting himself—including his precious gun and hatchet— with them, Glass is driven to survive by one desire: revenge.
With shocking grit and determination, Glass sets out crawling inch by inch across more than three hundred miles of uncharted American frontier, negotiating predators both human and not, the threat of starvation, and the agony of his horrific wounds.
Mixing fact, legend, and taking one or two literary and historical liberties, Michael Punke has written a superb story that both entertains and informs as he tells the tale of Hugh Glass, concentrating on his struggle to survive a horrific bear attack which makes for unforgettable reading.
Jim Bridger is one of the two men who leave Glass for dead, and this adds to the tension as you know Glass can’t kill him when he catches up to him, but why will he change his mind when the burning desire for revenge is what drives Glass on in his remarkable test of human endurance?
Punke also tells of Glass’s past; his time as a sailor and pirate under Jean Lafitte which makes for fascinating reading in itself.
Punke’s descriptions are vivid, capturing both time and place extremely well. There are light-hearted moments but it’s the brutal side of life in the wilderness that enthralled me the most.
If you have more than a passing interest in the life of Hugh Glass, or Jim Bridger, or tales of mountain men, then this book cannot be recommended enough.
The Revenant is soon to be a major motion picture, starring Leonardo Dicaprio.