Cover image for Argall : a book of North Americn landscapes
Argall : a book of North Americn landscapes
Vollmann, William T.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Viking, 2001.
Physical Description:
746 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm.
General Note:
Series taken from book jacket.

Cover title.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



"Half a thousand years ago, a young Indian "princess" named Pocahontas might or might not have rescued an English mercenary named John Smith from being executed at her father's command. She might or might not have been in love with him. Legend has it that thanks to Pocahontas, the colony at Jamestown was saved, and the English and the Indians became friends. Of course, they didn't. Massacres occurred on both sides until the Indians were dispossessed. And Pocahontas never married John Smith; kidnapped, brainwashed, and held hostage by the colonists, she found herself the bride of an ambitious tobacco planter who despised the culture she came from. Shipped off to England as a curiosity, she died young." "In Argall, William T. Vollmann alternates between extravagant Elizabethan language and gritty realism in an attempt to dig beneath the legend, and the betrayals, disappointments, and atrocities behind it, in order to imagine what the lives of John Smith and Pocahontas might really have been like. His array of characters also includes Pocahontas's loving and anxious father, the despot Powhatan, and her uncle Opechancanough, who knows how to hold his rage against the English until just the right moment; Smith's patron, Lord Willoughby, and Lieutenant George Percy, fourth president of the Jamestown colony, whose tainted nobility draws him into genocide. Behind all of them stands the terrifying figure of Captain Samuel Argall, who will kidnap Pocahontas, burn Indian towns, and bring black slavery to North America."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Author Notes

Journalist and novelist William T. Vollmann was born in 1959 and educated at Cornell University.

He worked as a comptuer programmer before becoming a journalist and covering Bosnia, Sarajevo and Afghanistan.

He has written extensively since 1987, when his first book, You Bright and Risen Angels, was published. The Atlas (1996) won the PEN Center USA West Award for the best novel by a writer living west of the Mississippi. His newest work of Non-Fiction is entitled, Imperial.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Adventurous in life and on the page, Vollmann is a phenomenally prolific, fearless writer, possessed of great stores of knowledge, a bristly humor, and a passionate curiosity about humanity. Here, after several intervening books, he returns to his ascendant series, Seven Dreams, supremely inventive novels about the European conquest of North America. Vollmann, whose many corrective measures in writing about the past include portraying compelling women characters in heretofore blatantly male-oriented histories, turns to the two most romanticized figures in colonial American lore, Pocahontas and Captain John Smith. In playful but lancing prose mannered in the Elizabethan mode and redolent of Barth and Pynchon, he renders highly dramatic and provocative the entire story of hapless Smith's disenfranchisement, horrific trials as a mercenary fighting the Turks, and dicey exploits in the colony of Virginia, where an Indian girl not only saves him from a brutal execution, but, enamored of her new "father," also saves the ungrateful citizens of Jamestown from starvation. Vollman's interpretations of the machinations and violence between the invading Europeans and the native people are richly imagined, and his portraits of the bumbling captain, betrayed and tragic Pocahontas, and her real father, the powerful and ruthless leader Powhatan, are intimate, fresh, ribald, and sympathetic. As for Argall, the man who kidnapped Pocahontas and committed atrocities of the worst magnitude, he is an embodiment of pure evil. Vollmann's commanding yet nimble, ironic yet deeply felt approach to the continent's complex history is the work of genius. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

"Reader Right Honorable; I warn'd you that this Book of mine doth drag me down toward the worst," writes William the Blind, chronicler of this third "dream" of Vollman's projected seven-novel series. The settling of Jamestown, far from being a Disney movie fantasy, prefigured the genocide that was eventually to quell the "Salvage" resistance to the settlement of North America. Vollman's angle on the "romance" of Capt. John Smith and "Pokahuntas" is not pretty. Still, Vollman doesn't connive at rote political correctness, either. Inspired by John Smith's own Generall Historie of Virginia, the novel is a vast fresco unfolding the encounter between the Virginia settlers and Powhatan's "People." Smith is "Sweet John," who like a good Elizabethan has taken Machiavelli as his guide to "Politick." His rise to brief eminence as the governor of the colony over the snobbish objections of the council is a tragicomedy of disappointed expectations, yet his policy of bringing war to the "People" has long-range consequences. When Vollman turns to the enigmatic Pokahuntas, he paints a portrait that is both respectful and moving, much different from the author's usual mannered sexual outrageousness. The eponymous Captain Argall edges into the foreground in the second part, succeeding Smith as Jamestown's leading spirit; he has the sinister bearing of some Jacobean theater devil like Iago, there's menace in his meanings. He kidnaps Pokahuntas and manipulates her assimilation into settler culture. Vollman's ability to write in Smith's English and endow it with a contemporary snap is an extraordinary feat. For readers willing to undertake Vollman's somewhat forbidding oeuvre, this is the book to begin with. (Oct. 1) Forecast: Vollman hides his light under a bushel of huge tomes, which is a shame. If reviews convince readers to take the plunge, this could score big but there's no denying that a 700-page volume three of seven (not to mention the $40 price tag) is inherently daunting. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A novel about the founding of the Virginia colony, this is the third volume in Vollmann's ambitious historical "Seven Dreams" series, which includes The Ice-Shirt and Fathers and Crows. The book is divided into two sections, the first focusing mainly on John Smith, the second on Pocahontas. Both parts are told in the voice of the dreamer William the Blind, who for this occasion adopts his own weird version of Elizabethan English. Aside from this minor stylistic difficulty, Argall is much more reader-friendly than the other volumes in the series, in part because of the greater familiarity of the material but also because the narrative is completely straightforward, without the intentional dreamlike obscurities of the earlier titles. Vollmann's history emphasizes the paranoia and cruelty of both the English settlers and the indigenous Virginians. Pocahontas's eventual transformation into a God-fearing Englishwoman is a chilling demonstration of 16th-century brainwashing techniques. In William the Blind's summary, the Powhatans lost their princess and their kingdom but gained discount cigarettes and gospel radio. Arguably the best installment in this magnificent series, this is definitely the place for new readers to start. Highly recommended. Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.