Ever walk into a library or book store, casually browsing the isles, and out of seemingly nowhere, a book leaps out at you? Drawn to it, you pick it up, start flipping the pages to land in the middle (always my testing point to tell if a book is any good or not), and start reading. Then it happens. You know you can’t leave unless that book comes with you, or you will be kicking yourself.
I fall in love with books as easily as with cute puppies. It’s also easy for me to be curious about everything, and curiosity is the catalyst for creativity. A lot of art is researched-based, too, and a good book, its subject matter can be the beginning fodder for a provocative body of work.
I was not expecting Kindred, a book slightly above my eye level, shelved towards the back of The Black Letter Bookshop on Main Street in Stillwater, Minnesota, to make a move on me. I picked it up once, flipped it over, opened it up, put it back, then picked it up again to read the subtitle Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art. It couldn’t get more compelling than that. Neanderthals had art.
We’ve all heard of Neanderthals as our misunderstood, distant, ancient cousins. “Neanderthal” was an insult to anyone said to be slow, sluggish with poor posture. But time, technological advances, increasingly better palaeoanthropological sites, and funding have all worked to shed light on one of our closest relatives. They weren’t the lumbering hulks with protruding foreheads possessing lower intelligence than us that we thought they were.
Only a few pages in, the author, Rebecca Wragg Sykes, delivers elegant prose, a blend of cutting-edge science and lyrical storytelling that is pure delight. After reading Kindred, I hope people come away with a renewed sense we are irrevocably linked to one another through a common ancestor, the Neanderthals. Though our genetic lines create our uniqueness and our races, we are still one species, homo sapiens, human beings, who live lives, love, who will die, and without a doubt, art will have meaning.
The subject is fascinating, to be sure, but it also gets back to one’s identity. People want to know where they came from and who their ancestors were, and they want to take their hunt for this information as far back in history as they can feasibly go. If people could find out that they have traces of ancestry linking back to the time of the Neanderthals, even to a specific region where they lived, I think they would be utterly astounded.
From time to time, I’ll give a short personal review about the book that is currently on my nightstand that I think others will find an intriguing, worthwhile read. You can catch these mini-reviews by subscribing to my newsletter.