Monday, November 30, 2009

Review: Across the Endless River by Thad Carhart

Teaser quote:

He lay in the lightly swaying hammock, suspended between wakefulness and sleep, until one of the words being called by the top watch suddenly separated itself from the others, swooped down, and spoke clearly in his ear, "Land!'

The simple word, so long anticipated, galvanized his spirit and body and propelled him from his berth.

Across the Endless River tells the story of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, son of Sacagawea and her voyageur "husband", at least the author's imagining of his story. Jean Baptiste was born during the trek where Sacagawea aided Lewis and Clark as they crossed the North American continent. As such, Baptiste, as he becomes more commonly referred to, starts his life an illustrious manner.

But it seems his opportunities don't stop there. From his early boyhood, he is welcomed in to Clark's home to enhance his studies. As her grows older he has the benefit of both worlds, the older, Indian world that his mother was a large part of as well as the newer "English" world.

Through his connections he meets many people, including Duke Paul of Wurttemberg, who is madly collecting as many specimens of his North American experience to take back to Europe with him. He requests Baptiste's company on his return to Europe in exchange for Baptiste's help in cataloguing these samples. Not one to turn such an offer down, Baptiste gladly embarks on a new adventure and he begins a new life among Kings, Princesses and many others of the upper or ruling classes.

I can't remember what had originally attracted this book to me and when I read the summary again, was not entirely sure I would truly like it. But I truly enjoyed the book from beginning to end. From the contrast of the quickly changing North American landscape, where the Indians are still following the herds yet settlements and cities are ever expanding, threatening this nomadic lifestyle to that of Europe. The lush, vivid imagery of the untamed plains to the glamour and excess of the deeply rooted, refined European nobility, these differences are highlighted many times through Baptiste's ruminations.

Baptiste's displays a knack, however unintentional, to land himself in fantastic circumstances. He quickly masters new languages, enabling him to assimilate well into other cultures as well as among the different classes of people throughout the story. Though there is some basis of reality, as much can be relied on from historical references, to Baptiste's abilities, Carhart's imagination makes the most of it and weaves a tale brilliantly around these truths.

I think that was part of the power of this story for me; that there was enough of the real man and his life within the fictitious rendering of his time in Europe. It reminded me of times in school, studying the Indian tribes (though mine would have been about the tribes within Canada as opposed to those featured in this story). This book made me want to research the people involved and learn more about them all.

It was a bit inconsistent at times with letters from Baptiste to Clark or Duke Paul's journal entries, as they weren't regularly organized but the content within these entries/letters helped maintain the flow and timeline of the story, so for me it was a very minor issue. Overall, it is beautifully, lavishly written and truly transported me to another time and place. From Carhart's telling, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau is definitely someone I wish I could have met.

Fun historical fact: According to my Google-ing of the history of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, I discovered (from Wikipedia) that he is, in fact, the only infant to ever appear on US currency.
Click here for the Wiki reference: . That's a pretty prestigious place to hold in history, in my opinion!

To learn more about Thad Carhart, click her for his website


Laughing Stars said...

What a beautifully written, thoughtful review. This book sounds fascinating.

Melissa (My World) said...

This sounds really interesting. I may have to pick this one up for just historical reasons. We are always attracted to the American Indian history or related books here in our home. Thanks!

Jackie said...

Laughing Stars - Thank you! It took me over a week to get the wording right on this review, lol. I've been recommending it wherever I go!

Melissa - Yes! Read it for sure :-) I didn't want it to end.

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