Maybe it’s because I read Cloud of Bone so recently, but I found myself in the mood to read something else about the Beothuk, and I picked up this novel from a few years back which I’d somehow missed reading when it first came out.
All Gone Widdun is another telling of the story of Shawnawdithit, last of the Beothuk. The focus here is on the last couple of years of Shawnawdithit’s life, the time she spent with William Epps Cormack. Cormack dedicated himself to a belated effort to save the Beothuk from extinction, but by the time he mounted an expedition to go look for them, no Beothuk were to be found in the Newfoundland interior. He then turned his attention to bringing Shawnawdithit from the outport home where she was living in obscurity as a domestic servant, into St. John’s where her status as the last of her people could be properly appreciated — or exploited.
The little we know about Beothuk language and culture is largely due to the efforts of Shawnawdithit and Cormack, to the words, stories, and drawings he was able to glean from her in the months she lived with him in St. John’s before her death of tuberculosis. But the relationship must have been an uneasy one, fraught with ambiguous feelings on both sides. It’s that strange relationship between two so different people Annamarie Beckel captures so well in All Gone Widdun. The story is told from both characters’ points of view, alternating between Shawnawdithit’s voice and Cormacks. Beckel is, perhaps, not entirely fair to Cormack and he certainly emerges as the less appealing of the two characters, yet his desire to help and learn about a people on the verge of extinction comes across as sincere, though sometimes misguided.
Shawnawdithit’s story has been told before and will be told again in many different ways, but it’s a story that bears retelling and rediscovery. In this novel, Annamarie Beckel has created a strong and believable Shawnawdithit, a complex and conflicted Cormack, and a narrative that will engage the reader while adding one more layer to the Beothuk story.