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The King of America

Author: Gillison, Samantha Set In . . .
 Asia, Papua New Guinea
Genre: Mystery
Time Frame: 1960-1970s
Published: 2005
Description: The King of America traces the short, brilliant life of Stephen Hesse, firstborn son of one of America’s wealthiest, most powerful men—yet Stephen’s distinguished paternal lineage and the great privilege it has conferred on him are at odds with the working-class background of his mother. Ultimately, a scandalous divorce and the replacement of the somber, dark-eyed mother and child with a new family more becoming to Stephen’s father’s political ambition leave the young man an outsider. The sole focus of his abandoned mother, Stephen Hesse grows up lonesome and restless.

At Harvard, recovering from a failed love affair, Stephen falls under the sway of a charismatic anthropology professor and, at last, feels a sense of direction and identity. As a scholar, writer, and art collector for his father’s museum, Stephen accompanies his mentor to the impossibly strange and distant world of Netherlands New Guinea, where a Neolithic culture, still practicing its ancient rites of head-hunting, thrives in its last moments before modernity arrives. There Stephen discovers the Asmat bisj poles—terrifying, glorious, towering pieces of carved woodwork honoring tribal ancestors—which he hopes will secure his professional standing and guarantee him a lasting place in his father’s esteem. But his hardheaded insistence on securing the art before the onset of the monsoon season has tragic consequences.

Loosely based on the mysterious 1961 disappearance of Michael Rockefeller, The King of America moves seamlessly from the bastions of East Coast privilege to the tropical lushness of New Guinea. Samantha Gillison writes with the powers of observation of a naturalist and the assurance of a born novelist. Part love story, part adventure yarn, part family tragedy, The King of America is an exceptional feat of storytelling.
  
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