Michael O. GarveySeptember 18, 2005 - 5:31am0 comments
Hour of the Cat
by Peter Quinn
The Overlook Press, $25.95, 400 pp.
Here in my part of the country, northern Indiana, there once lived a nomadic tribe of ten thousand people. They descended, or so it was thought, from southeastern Native Americans, escaped African slaves, and Irish and Scottish apprentice workers. They came up from Kentucky in the eighteenth century, roamed the Midwest during the nineteenth century, and settled in the Indianapolis area by the beginning of the twentieth. They called themselves the Ben Ishmael Tribe, spoke a strange patois incomprehensible to surrounding Hoosiers, and developed an unsavory reputation among Indiana’s most respected and powerful citizens. The same citizens enacted the “Indiana Plan,” the world’s first compulsory sterilization law, in 1907 (the year Hitler was born). The Ben Ishmael Tribe doesn’t bother anyone anymore.
The “Ishmaelites” were among the thousands of victims of American sterilization programs conceived by reputable scientists from prestigious universities, generously funded by the Carnegie Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation. The programs targeted any reproductive threat to the cultivation of what the eugenicists, invariably powerful, educated, fashionable white men, thought of as superior genetic lines.
The fact that things really haven’t changed much makes Peter Quinn’s intriguing historical novel that much more compelling. In Quinn’s last book, the superb Civil War novel...