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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

October 30, 1994|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

MUTANT MESSAGE DOWN UNDER by Marlo Morgan. (HarperCollins: $18; 187 pp.) This wild adventure comes with an odd disclaimer as a preface: It is "sold as a novel," the author tells us, "to protect the small tribe of Aborigines from legal involvement." This is somewhat similar to the confusion over another book with a message, carried by its author back to Western civilization: "The Celestine Prophesy." Is it fiction or nonfiction? Readers don't seem to care. They buy these books by the thousands. Morgan, an American doctor from the midwest, with a lifelong fascination for the Australian Outback, is summoned there some time in her 50s to work with the Aborigines. Expecting to be thanked for her work with a traditional awards luncheon, she is instead taken, completely unprepared, on a walkabout across the desert for three months. During that time, her bare feet harden into hoofs, she learns to eat various insects, she learns how to find water, she learns how to speak without language, and she is set on the path to fulfill some destiny established long before her birth: to bring a message about these people, the Wild Ones, the Real People, back to her own tribe. The message is about listening to the earth, leaving people who are different alone and being compassionate while making others strong. It is not beautifully written, it is straightforward. There is almost no context in which to place this adventure in Morgan's life, before or after the journey. There is something of a context in the life of the tribe, which has collectively decided that they will no longer have children (the youngest is 13 years old), that they will die out. It is not really about what happens to Morgan, which is refreshingly un-self-centered.

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