Kuri’s debut historical novel tells of a venture to control the fur trade in the Pacific Northwest.
Gabriel Franchère, 24, is a French Canadian from the St. Lawrence Valley, unique among the young men of his village for his ability to read and write. In 1810, he and some of his friends set out with a wilderness-hardened Scotsman and his team of voyageurs on a journey into unknown territories. First they travel to New York City, where their benefactor, immigrant visionary John Jacob Astor, dreams “to unite all the untouched lands of this continent under a single fur trading company of his own.” From New York, they set off on a grueling monthslong journey aboard the Tonquin, around Cape Horn and up to the mouth of the Columbia River, where the great untapped forests of Oregon offer riches for any man bold enough to brave them. An assemblage of adventurers, sailors, and businessmen—some famous, some infamous—surround Franchère as he navigates the streets of Manhattan, the high seas, and the wilds of the Northwest. Their enterprise is that of empire itself, and while it may be an undertaking conceived in the halls of power, it will be realized in blood and smoke at the edges of the known world. Kuri writes in steady, detail-oriented prose reminiscent of the labor that characterizes the world of his fiction: “The stout, elderly Huron, beside a rack of drying strips of meat, prepares a skin using a knife to remove pieces of fat from a wet and soft hide she has previously soaked in brine and staked out with the skin up, that it might dry smooth.” The present tense lends a documentary quality to the story, which banishes romanticism while still keeping readers enthralled in its rhythms. A great depth of research is apparent, and though readers may find that the minutiae stand in the way of a more traditional adventure tale, others will appreciate how deftly Kuri immerses us in a world of tremendous toil, danger, and beauty.
An engaging, sometimes-wondrous work of historical fiction.