Michael Rockefeller, the 23-year-old son of then New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, disappeared in 1961 while on an art-collecting trip in the Asmat region along the coast of southwest New Guinea. His boat capsized in rough waters, and, after he and a companion had waited overnight for rescue, Rockefeller decided to swim to shore, buoyed by two empty gasoline cans. He was never seen again—at least not by any witnesses who’ve been willing to come forward.
The official cause of death was drowning at sea. But even as the search for young Rockefeller was still going on, rumors began surfacing that he had been killed and eaten by Asmat natives, among whom cannibalism was still a common and sacred practice. The aim of Savage Harvest is to settle the question of Rockefeller’s fate, just as earlier books and articles have attempted.
Since Carl Hoffman opens his narrative with a jarringly graphic description of what might have been Rockefeller’s last agonizing minutes, it will come as no surprise that he is indeed convinced that the young man was cannibalized. A contributing editor of National Geographic Traveler, Hoffman forms and undergirds his thesis by visiting the same villages Rockefeller scoured for art objects, interviewing descendants and kinsmen of those rumored to have killed him and uncovering personal correspondences and official documents concerning the disappearance. He also explains how the politics of the region— waning Dutch colonialism vs. rising Indonesian nationalism—figured into the story.
Hoffman depicts Rockefeller as a young man bent on pleasing his doting father—talented, to be sure, but a bit overeager and entitled, and oblivious[Sat Aug 30 06:25:02 2014] enhancedContent.pl: Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\enhancedContent.pl line 249. to the fact that the art objects he was acquiring so matter-of-factly still had deep spiritual significance to their creators. Among local tribes, the author explains, taking revenge against one’s enemies was a way of restoring balance to the universe. He speculates that Rockefeller was probably killed in response to a Dutch raid on a native village three years earlier in which the main tribal leaders were slaughtered.
Hoffman’s quest is to discover physical or eyewitness evidence that Rockefeller made it to shore and there met his end. Whether his findings achieve the level of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” readers are left to decide for themselves.Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
Author of The Lunatic Express and a contributing editor at National Geographic Traveler, the award-winning Hoffman here journeys to New Guinea to investigate the 1961 disappearance of Michael C. Rockefeller, youngest son of then New York State governor Nelson Rockefeller, who had gone to New Guinea to study Asmat art and culture. His body was never found after his boat capsized and he attempted to swim ashore, and theories about his death include cannibalism. Living in an Asmat village, Hoffman collects hints that the villagers know what happened and considers the Asmat belief that cannibalism (no longer practiced) balanced the spiritual demands of the universe. With a 100,000-copy first printing.[Page 59]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
What really happened to Michael Rockefeller, son of former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, when he disappeared on an art-collecting expedition in the Asmat tribal region of Dutch New Guinea (now called Papua and a part of Indonesia) in 1961? That is the question posed by Hoffman, a journalist and contributing editor at National Geographic Traveler magazine in this absorbing account of his search to unravel the true facts of the case. Hoffman has done impressive and meticulous investigation on the disappearance in the Dutch governmental and Catholic Church archives, through interviews with Dutch priests and government officials who were in the Asmat region at the time that Rockefeller went missing, and by making two trips in 2012 to the lowland region of southern Papua where the Asmat tribe still lives. There the author stayed in a local village for a month. Although Rockefeller's official cause of death was listed as drowning after his boat overturned, Hoffman makes a very strong case for the shocking conclusion that Rockefeller may actually have been killed and eaten by Asmat tribesmen after he swam to shore. No trace of him has ever been found, but substantive circumstantial evidence exists in local lore and in the material and interviews that are presented. Like the Asmat people, whose history comes alive through oral tradition, Hoffman is an excellent storyteller. VERDICT This enthralling real-life mystery will appeal to general readers with interests in history, anthropology, and exploration.--Elizabeth Salt, Otterbein Univ. Lib., Westerville, OH[Page 95]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Born into one of the world's richest and most influential families, Michael Rockefeller was immersed in the art scene virtually from birth and eventually developed an affinity for primitive artwork that would lead to his disappearance in 1961 off the coast of New Guinea in an area populated by cannibals. Whether then-23-year-old Rockefeller was eaten by those inhabitants was the source of a tremendous amount of speculation and, as Hoffman (The Lunatic Express) shows, an intricate conspiracy involving the Dutch government and the Catholic Church. In an expertly told tale that is begging for a film adaptation, Hoffman travels to the area to speak with members of the Asmat tribe, hoping to gain insight about their practices and complex social structure. By understanding how a possibly unrelated event--the slaughter of a handful of Asmat men by a panicked Dutchman years earlier--led to Rockefeller's death, Hoffman shows readers the larger picture, and the ways this tragic event had terrible consequences for Rockefeller as well as the tribe. Aware of his own biases as well as Rockefeller's hubris in collecting items now housed in the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hoffman crafts a remarkable, balanced examination of this sensational case. While the truth of Rockefeller's disappearance may never be known, Hoffman deserves much credit for this riveting, multilayered tale. Photos. Agent: Joe Regal and Markus Hoffmann, Regal Literary. (Mar.)[Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC