In 1785, two frigates with 200 men aboard left Europe intending to circumnavigate the globe. For the glory of France and the chance to put their names on the ever-expanding map, these men and their leader, La Pérouse, took their microscopes, telescopes, and Enlightenment ideals to the high seas. Less than four years later, both ships had mysteriously disappeared, wrecked on a coral atoll in the South Pacific. Every man on board was lost, his final story destined to be forgotten. But what happened in those intervening years as they sailed from the southern tip of South America to the eastern coast of Russia and on to the newly mapped continent of Australia?
In Landfalls: A Novel, Naomi Williams ’87 follows the historic journey of the La Pérouse expedition. Drawing on extensive research, she narrates each chapter from a different perspective and place. In one chapter, a native Alaskan Tlingit child tries to make sense of the Europeans’ arrival in her bay. In another, a lieutenant mourns the massacre of his shipmates in the Navigator Islands. The story ends in tragedy, but the shipwreck is by no means the most interesting thing that happens in this novel — cultures, storm systems, and individuals clash in fascinating ways.
The New York Times says Williams’ debut novel is “ambitious and meticulous” while Kirkus calls the book “literary art of the first order, intelligent and evocative in the way of the best of historical fiction.”