Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati

After failing to mark that I'd read this one already on the spreadsheet...which I will be updating soon, I thought I should start here.

Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati

(Acquired: blog contest on by Jean Schara)

This novel's comment ended up being a victim of the summer madness so I'm writing it not when the read is fresh but some time later. That said, sometimes the immediate reaction isn't always the true one. That's not the case with Into the Wilderness, or at least the sense of wonder and history and immersion still lingers.

It's been a while since I've read a historical novel set in the Americas with the exception of romance novels, and those are usually set in the American West. This book gave a good sense of the time and the contradiction between independence offered and actually given.

The female main character is betrayed on some level by practically everyone in her pursuit to be a teacher for the local children, even, she thinks, by the man she loves. The story takes us through a twisted tangle of deceit and desperation, showing both the perspective of those who had already settled the territory and those, primarily from Great Britain, who are the newcomers.

The tension between the "wild man" personalities of the original trappers who broke this ground and the "civilized" folks, who came later, is well drawn and compelling while at the same time not stereotypical. For example, one of the worst examples of the wild man, who doesn't wash, barely communicates, and is closer to the beasts he traps than those who live in their little houses, turns out to have more to him than the gruff appearance he presents...though not much more ;). The story also considers issues of racism and slavery with both Native Americans and characters with an African heritage as it is set on the brink of change when slavery is both no longer accepted by rote and still an important part of the economy.

I'm trying to speak in generalities so as not to spoil the book for anyone planning to read it, but at the same time pass on some of the flavor and depth of this story. It is very much a historical novel. If you don't like immersing yourself in a place and time where the rules are different and the people might not have exactly the same values you expect, save yourself the trouble. And the opposite is also true. If how you like to explore the flavor of a place is through fictional accounts where your eyes are opened to the contradictions and conflicts between people whose natures and beliefs are so opposed as to be a constant source of violence even among supposed friends? I'd highly recommend Sara's book. Her next one is out, and it's going on my to buy list for sure.

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