Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Whitman Massacre

The Whitman Massacre of 1847 –by Catherine, Elizabeth & Matilda Sager

Nonfiction / History
208 pages
4 Stars

It is, perhaps, not fair to give such a riveting story only 4 stars, but I often found it confusing, in great part, I am sure, that the original was written by long hand and the conventions of the day were not set as they are now.

Seven Sager children made it to the Whitman Mission after losing both parents on the way. They did not, as a popular book and movie has made out, come alone, but were brought by the wagon master and helpful people within the train.

The Whitman's adopted them and they stayed at the Mission until the massacre when the two boys were killed, and a younger girl died of complications or neglect, from the measles. (Once the massacre started, there was no one allowed to care for the recovering children.)

Of the four remaining girls, Catherine, Elizabeth, and Matilda each wrote their recollections of what happened, and the time-line of events. That they do not always match is to be understood and accepted. Every person sees and hears the same thing differently, add to that time and memory, and well, that's why eye-witnesses are not as good in a Court of Law as forensics and DNA. I don't believe Henrietta Naomi ever wrote anything that was published. She was very young and possibly had no memories of the massacre. She also died young, at age 26.

What confused me were the lack of names and often the lack of quotations. I was not always sure who spoke. Or to whom the missive was addressed. Probably at the time the book was originally published, people remembered, and the names were not as important. But I would like to know.

If the history of the Oregon Country is of interest to you, I do recommend this book. (I've read it twice). My book is a hard back, purchased at the Whitman Mission several years ago, and I am delighted to see it is still in print.

It shows the Whitmans as they were--genuine people who truly cared about people, and did not differentiate between white and red skin color.

The Last Runaway

The Last Runaway: A Novel –by Tracy Chevalier

Fiction / History c.1850 Ohio
320 pages
5 Stars

Honor Bright comes to America with her sister, who is to be wed to Adam Cox in the small Quaker town of Faithwell, in Ohio (3 miles from Oberlin). She is, from the get-go set into a new life nothing like she has ever known. From the start, she is sick all the way across the Atlantic. She gets better, and her sister dies just short of reaching Faithwell.

The Quakers of the New World are different from the ones she is used to. The homes and buildings are different. The speech is different. Life, she is discovering, is different. She is used to the permanency of stone, not the temporary and flammable wood so common on these shores.

In a word, Honor is frightened, lonely, in mourning, and most importantly, she is homesick. If you've never been there consider yourself fortunate!

Honor is met with suspicion and jealousy. She is young, pretty, and competition to the single girls in the town. Her quilting is different, her stitches are even and tiny—one more thing to set her apart and add to her homesickness.

When she marries, she is not welcome by any in her new family but her husband. She is told not to help escaping slaves, but no one tells her why they refuse to get involved. She must discover that on her own as she follows the dictates of her conscious.

Had I started this book in the morning, it would have been a "one-sit" read; alas, I started it at night, intending to read a couple chapters a night before turning out my light. I read until my eyes burned and the words swam off the page and I couldn't seem to get them back where they belonged. I finished it the next day. (The dusting could wait!)

The fact Ms. Chevalier attended Oberlin College added to the realism of the area and era of The Last Runaway. I found the characters believable, especially considering the times. And having been as homesick as Honor at one time in my life, thrust into a totally different environment, where the language was the same—but not, etc., I found her quite believable. I could even understand the draw to the bad boy, Donovan.

When I closed the book, I immediately began to re-write the ending to suit me (a game in which I often indulge). And, you know what? Ms. Chevalier nailed it! She wrote the perfect ending for this story. Of course, I want to know what comes next in Honor's life, but I don't think this is the first of a series. I have not read Ms. Chevalier's other books, but they are most assuredly on my list.

Would I recommend this book? Oh, most definitely! Anyone who is interested in the Underground Railroad, without all the drama and hype of Hollywood would like it. Anyone who likes history should enjoy it. But beware. It may turn into a one-sit read.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Uppity Women Win!

4,000 Years of Uppity Women –Vicki Leon

209 pages – hardback
5 Stars

This little book is chockablock full of short vignettes about "uppity" women from the last 4,000 years. While it is a book of herstory, and Ms. Leon has obviously done her research, it is not a scholarly tome of total seriousness; however, it is a book of great fun and interesting women. I certainly would not recommend it to be the only book on the bibliography of a high school paper!

In many cases, there is hardly more than a paragraph known about the woman, and it seems pretty remarkable to me that Ms. Leon was able to ferret out as much as she did about her. I bought this book to use in my own research, to glean ideas and names from the pages for possible stories of my own. For that, it is perfect!

If you want in-depth herstory after reading some of these vignettes, in many cases it is available at your nearest library or bookstore. Ms. Leon has included a bibliography which is worth the read, if you want more information.

Did she get ALL the uppity women? Of course not, but she got a fair amount. (I would have loved to read her take on Mrs. Mary Jemison, a contemporary of Eunice Williams.) And, of course, I would have LOVED to have seen my most favorite uppity woman, Madame Marie Dorion in her book!

Her style of writing is fun, at times almost flippant, but she gets her point across. There were times I laughed out loud at some of her remarks. This is herstory written for everyone, not just the academics of serious scholars.

The story of the Baltimore widow, Mary Young Pickersgill, was a new one for me, and fascinating (the "real" Betsey Ross). I knew the stories of Sally Hemings and Eunice Williams, and some of the female pirates and thieves, but many of these vignettes introduced me to women I had not heard of, and I want to learn more. I have heard and read a bit about The Tales of Genji, but did not know how or why it was written. Indeed, I learned a great deal from this little gem.