Dance of the Tiger: A Novel of the Ice Age

Björn Kurtén

University of California Press 1995 [1978]
A book review by Danny Yee © 1996
I have previously read two novels about contact between Cro-Magnon and Neandertal man: Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear and William Golding's The Inheritors. Björn Kurtén's Dance of the Tiger may not be as well known (I stumbled over it by chance in a publisher's catalogue), but it deserves to be. If it lacks the psychological depth of Golding's novel, it is just as engaging, and it is far more tautly written than Auel's potboiler. From the opening mammoth hunt the excitement is maintained almost without a pause for breath, with short descriptive passages heightening rather than diminishing the suspense.

Dance of the Tiger is also far better informed scientifically than either of the other novels. Kurtén was a professor of palaeontology at the University of Helsinki (Stephen Jay Gould calls him "Europe's finest evolutionary paleontologist") and Gould's introduction and an author's note at the end provide some hint of how careful his attention to detail was (though it is never overt or intrusive). While much of his reconstruction is obviously very conjectural, it observes the anthropological niceties and never stretches suspension of disbelief; my one major qualm was with an engineering implausibility (which I won't explain, since it is used to resolve the plot). Dance of the Tiger won't sell hundreds of thousands of copies or be prescribed as a text in English courses, but that's not a measure of its quality — if palaeoanthropological fiction appeals to you at all then you won't want to miss Kurtén's offering.

January 1996

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%T Dance of the Tiger
%S A Novel of the Ice Age
%A Kurtén, Björn
%I University of California Press
%D 1995 [1978]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0520202775
%P xxv,255pp