In 1838, walking into bitter wind and blowing snow in the Arkansas Territory, Sanders was carrying his little sister when heard a scream. He turned. His mother was down. Sprawled from a fall. The child she’d been carrying was on the ground wailing. Sanders called to one of his brothers, handed their sister to him. Knelt by his mother. She was sobbing, her head in her skirt. Behind her was a path of pink footprints. Sanders’ brother set their other sister down and picked up the dropped one. Sanders took off his shirt, tore it in strips, and bound his mother’s feet. He lifted her in his arms and started walking. When he tired, he handed her to his older brother and took the child he was carrying from him. Another brother held an older little sister’s hand. Only their youngest brother, crippled from a blowgun accident, walked alone. Their father had died of a fever the year of the treaty.
Sanders remembered the weight of his mother while searching for Jenny. His breath caught. His throat tightened. She’s been a slight woman and, by that far into the Trail Where They Cried, close to starving. But she was the weight by which he judged all others. Not the month spent in the holding pen before the march, not hand-to-hand combat, not the winter at Fort Davis, not defeat, not the death of his first wife, not the ashes of his home, not the walk to and from the refugee camp – nothing, nothing at all, matched the hardship of that journey with his mother in his arms. If he had to, he could look for Jenny night and day, without sleep of food. He could go on and on. Endurance was the lesson Sanders had learned from life. In the end, only it carried hope. He bend close to the back of his horse. Guided him under a limb. Straightened up.
Cherokee America, by Cherokee citizen Margaret Verble, is a Western at heart… but a kind of Western you’ve never read before. All the elements are there: cowboys and Indians, outlaws, the remembrance (and aftermath) of war, gold hiding and searching, sheriffs, farmers, and a close community in a wide open prairie. The plot also revolves around familiar themes (at least on the surface): revenge and the hunt for a hidden stash of gold.
Everything that you would expect from a good Western novel is there, but the perspective of the story makes this novel unique. Cherokee America is set in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma when that nation was still independent from the United State and the rule of the land derived from traditional Cherokee culture. Here, women have they place and social role, very different and more free than it was in larger America society (Cherokee America – Check – is one of the main characters in the novel… though in spite of the novel being called after her, I’d hesitate to call her ‘the protagonist’ because this is truly a choral novel at heart). Here people are all equal and judged by what they contribute to the community, rather than by their gender or race.
The multi-culturality of the setting is one of the things I enjoyed the most. The diversity of this rather small community gives richness to the story and the characters, and suggests how this is true in life also. I loved seeing how characters from different cultures relate to each other in a way that underlines their identity, but also showcases the attitude of reaching out, an attitude that often turns into respect and even friendship.
The novel is split into two quite different halves. The first part revolved around Check’s husband sickness and eventual death. It’s a very intimate, ponderous part, heavy with a sense of loss and sorrow, and the way it is written and structure seems to call the reader for a slower partecipation, an invitation to take their time and get to know this place and those characters. Everything is designed to take the rhythm down, including the sentence structure, to mark a place and time where rhythms were widely different from ours. The peak of this first half is Andrew’s funeral, where all the community gathers.
The sense of a closely knitted community then carries over into the second part of the novel, where only working together, and offering rather than taking, makes the outcome possible.
The second part of the novel has a clipper pace and a more adventurous focus, as a girl goes missing and the community goes out in search of her. There’s a murder too, there’s revenge, difficult diplomatic relations, clever and unexpected solutions.
It’s a very complex story, not just for the crowded cast of characters and their arcs, but also for the themes weaving onto each other. But it is also a very satisfying story, one that will open your eyes on a sleeve of history that is seldom addressed. And on the matters of life, which is what all good stories are about.
This review is part of Margaret Verble book launch blog tour.
Expolore the other stops of the tour:
Tuesday, February 19
Feature at Coffee and Ink
Tuesday, February 26
Review at Jennifer Silverwood’s Blog
Wednesday, February 27
Review at The Lit Bitch
Thursday, February 28
Review at Tar Heel Reader
Friday, March 1
Feature at View from the Birdhouse
Monday, March 4
Review at Amy’s Booket List
Feature at Old Timey Books
Friday, March 8
Interview at The Old Shelter
Monday, March 11
Interview at Passages to the Past
Wednesday, March 13
Review at Passages to the Past
In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme. If you want to discover more about this meme and maybe take part in it, head over to Bookshelf Fantasies