Review: 'Bush Runner,' by Mark Bourrie
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Review: 'Bush Runner,' by Mark Bourrie

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"Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson" by Mark Bourrie.

"Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson" by Mark Bourrie. (Biblioasis/Amazon/TNS)

"Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson" by Mark Bourrie; Biblioasis (314 pages, $18.95)

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It's not too hard to guess that Radisson - whose name graces the Minnesota-based hotel chain - was an early European adventurer in North America. But it would take a vivid imagination indeed to conjure up a yarn that was even half as wild as the life that Pierre-Esprit Radisson actually lived.

The 17th-century French fur trader's biography is an incredible, head-spinning tale of capture by Mohawk warriors, adoption by a powerful indigenous family, participation in Iroquois war parties, escape, then recapture and escape again, capture by pirates near Spain, travel to the Arctic, military adventure in the Caribbean, and shipwreck off Venezuela. That's for starters.

Perhaps you've heard of Hudson's Bay Company, the oldest North American corporation, still in existence after 350 years? Radisson co-founded it.

Besides being a businessman, he was an admitted cannibal and murderer, and he enjoyed connections to royal courts and enthralled kings by writing - specially for them - accounts of his journeys.

Along the way, he double-crossed Native Americans, the English, the French (twice) and the Dutch.

"He's the Forrest Gump of his time. He's everywhere. And because he could read and write, he managed to tell us about it," Mark Bourrie writes in "Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson," an engaging biography of this "eager hustler with no known scruples."

Despite his many failings, Radisson is "appealing because he was not a colonist or imperialist," and he documents early Euro-Indigenous contacts "without the blatant racism that oozes from the writings of the Jesuit missionaries or from people like Champlain."

Born in France around 1636, Radisson joined his half-sisters at a trading post in Canada when he was about 15. Within a year, he was captured by a Mohawk raiding party, but he impressed them so much that he was assimilated into their society. That was the beginning of an odyssey that no guest settling in for quiet night at a Radisson Blu could possibly invent.

Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com

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