Monday, October 5, 2009

Across The Endless River by Thad Carhart


In Indian culture, the ocean was called "the endless river" as no one ever sailed across it. Thad Carhart explores the life of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, who was the baby born to Sacagawea on the explorations of Lewis and Clark, where she served as a translator. Because of this connection with Americans, Jean-Baptiste grew up with connections both to his Indian heritage, the French trapping culture of his father, and the American/English culture. Sacagawea died when Baptiste was eight, and he lived after that with Captain Clark, who treated him as a ward and provided him with an education. There, he met and grew to know a German nobleman, Duke Paul of Wurttemberg. Paul is in America to satisfy his longing to make a name for himself as a natural history scientist. Baptiste is invaluable to his efforts, serving as a guide and helping him capture various wild animals.

When Paul returns to Europe, he convinces Jean-Baptiste to go with him.  What is meant as a short journey ends in Jean-Baptiste staying as Paul's guest for five years. He learns about European royal culture and it's strict structure for every part of life. During these years, Baptiste learns about royal hunting, familial expectations, music, art and various scientific studies. He also forms relationships with two women. One is a young widow, Theresa, who is Paul's cousin and who starts a friendship with Baptiste that turns into an affair. He also forms a relationship with the daughter of a wine-merchant to European nobility. Maura is half French and half Irish, and understands better than anyone else the way that Jean-Baptiste feels balanced between two opposing worlds.

Thad Carhart has done extensive research into this man's life, and it is evident in his writing. One of the strongest examples is the contrast in hunting. The reader is taken along on an Indian hunt for buffalo, and this writing is exciting and compelling. When Baptiste goes to Europe, this hunting, which is done for survival, is contrasted with the very formalised hunt performed by the noblemen, where one animal is selected, his moments traced, and he is harried to exhustion and then executed. Another example is Carhart's writing of the ceremony that young Indian men underwent to become braves. It is a chilling ceremony, and the reader is transported into the smokey, loud tent in which the ceremony occurs. The contrast in European culture is the stylized dance that Baptiste attends, where all moves are structured and there is a definate pattern to every stage of the evening. This book is recommended for lovers of historical fiction. I enjoyed getting to know Jean-Baptiste, and I think others will also.
 
Reviewed for Book Pleasures

1 comment:

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