A meticulously researched but not wholly satisfactory history of the Cherokees from 1770 to 1838, when 12,000 Indians were forced to move to Oklahoma in a march known as The Trail of Tears. Novelist Ehle (The Winter People, 1982; Last One Home, 1984; etc.) grew up in North Carolina on what was once Cherokee land, and the bond he feels with the area's past informs his work with passion--if not seamless coherence. That passion drove Ehle to amass an astounding amount of primary material--letters, documents, folklore, etc.--and to wield it with sociological assessments and odd bits of fictionalization into this account. Nonetheless, there's an unfinished feel here: most striking is Ehle's failure to provide an overview of the Cherokee nation before the whites' arrival--the first significant character introduced is Ridge, a Cherokee with Scottish blood. Moreover, further characters and incidents are often mentioned with no explanation, a problem sometimes remedied in later pages and sometimes not. Even so, though, the gallery of little-known, historical figures--mixed bloods who tried to improve the Cherokee fate: the noble Major Ridge, the brilliant Elias Boudinet, the hardheaded John Ross; Sequoyah, the first to create a written Indian language--glows, and some rarities (e.g., the letters of a young US soldier assigned to the removal of the Indians) impart a poignant intimacy. Although Ehle never quite weaves a tight tapestry from his multithreaded skein of raw information, his is certainly the most thorough Cherokee history to date--and it makes up in emotional impact what it lacks in narrative rigor.