Collectively, my four children ask me an average of 413 questions each day. Apparently children in the mid-1800's were as inquisitive. They did not care that their mothers were walking next to a wagon that was carrying all of their earthly belongings to Oregon. They did not care that their mothers were, while walking next to the wagon, having to start life over again. They did not care that their mothers would really rather have stayed in their nice homes with furniture and plates. They did not care that their mothers were expected to cook, clean, do laundry and serve their husbands while walking across the country in their long, hot dresses. No, they didn't care. They still asked their questions.
Such truths are brilliantly described in A Sudden Country, by Karen Fisher. It is a historical novel about westward expansion in 1846. Fisher based the novel on a journal she read by real people who made the journey. It is a gorgeous story that reminded me of one big poem. The writing is lyrical throughout and takes some concentration. It is definitely not pool-side-with-children-dripping-popsicles-on-you summer reading. Lucy Mitchell and James MacLaren are the main characters in the novel. Lucy, still grieving the death of her previous husband, now finds herself in a marriage to a man for whom she feels no love. Furthermore, she nearly despises him for forcing her (and her five children) to pick up and move to Oregon. James, grieving the facts that his wife left him to return to her Nez Perez tribe and that all three of his daughters recently died from illness, now finds himself desperately trying to find his wife amongst the various Nez Perez tribes he encounters. When their paths cross, Lucy and James forge a common bond in their grief. This bond provides a poignant backdrop for a tale of the sacrifice, pain and labor it took to begin again during this time in America's history.
There are two reasons I loved this novel. Many books covering Westward Expansion detail how the pioneers pillaged the land of the Native Americans. This book describes how they harmed each other. As I was reading, I felt compassion for both groups, realizing that each was striving to do what they thought was needed for survival of their people. Karen Fisher provided this perspective incredibly well.
The second reason is that, as I labor in my home daily, I have the conveniences of modern appliances, running water, peaceful neighbors, furniture, and pants. Lucy's story includes most of the same responsibilities I face each day, excluding the appliances, running water, peaceful neighbors and pants. How dare I even utter a sigh in exhaustion as my dishwasher is running, I'm loading my dryer, and I'm answering the 413th question of the day?