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Arjen Terpstra. It Eagleton Segel.

Arjen Terpstra. It Eagleton Segel. Ljouwert, Netherlands. Friese Pers. 2010. 480 pages. 22.50 [euro]. ISBN 978-90330-0918-1

When Arjen Terpstra made his debut as a novelist in 2008, he gave notice to an appreciative reading public that a promising author had joined the ranks of significant Frisian writers. In It Eagleton Segel (The Eagleton seal), he confirms the presence of a prodigious imagination at work but raises a question about his discipline, for even a literary imagination must know its boundaries.

The saga of the Eagleton family takes readers to the Ireland of the 1600s as they are driven from their proud castle by the merciless English invaders. In succeeding centuries, the descendants scatter all over the world, often in danger of their lives, while their blood gets intermingled with that of Frisians, Native Americans, and African Americans. Yet what remains strong is a relentless sense of mission and quest: to repossess the castle that had been the Eagleton home since the eleventh century. The Eagleton family seeks recognition as the rightful heirs to the property, which had been occupied by the English since the 1600s. It appears a mission impossible, a foolhardy quest, for the two halves of a broken Eagleton seal that constitutes the key to the castle are lost in widely disparate places and must be recovered and rewelded to legitimize the claim of ownership. And the enemy is ready to murder anyone who dares to pursue the quest.

This is an ambitious, even a bit overweening piece of work: it undertakes nothing less than creating, complicating, and eventually resolving a mysterious secret that has its beginnings in the Middle Ages, taking readers across the centuries and continents to the present time, where it is finally resolved. Though thinly based on ancient Irish kings, the story takes off on a wildly imagined adventure of intrigue, violence, and romance. To say that the incredible tale requires the reader's willingness to suspend disbelief is a bit of an understatement. But if the reader is willing to suspend credulity, he or she is in for some fast-paced, hair-raising episodes. The book's main character, John Hamilton, turns from a reluctant Montana governor into a Superman capable of extraordinary powers and feats with knives and guns and prowess that invariably reduce the most powerful enemy to dust. He is often aided by eagles, somehow mysteriously bonded to the Eagleton family, that seem to be sent by the gods to ensure the return of justice after some four centuries. Underscoring this kind of supernatural presence is Hamilton's abiding sense that actions and outcome have been preordained by some divinity.

As the book rushes to its climactic conclusion, the bewildering array of improbabilities that pile up thick and heavy overtax the reader's suspended disbelief. There is no question of the writer's skill; his style is engaging and fluid, his characters are vividly rendered; the power of his imagination is impressive. But at the end there is the question of discipline, as well as of purpose. Here the whole seems less than the sum of its parts.

Henry J. Baron

Calvin College
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Author:Baron, Henry J.
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 1, 2011
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