A young Englishman’s North American adventure during the War of 1812.
In a preface, Scottish author Elphinstone (<\I>The Sea Road, 2001, etc.), grandniece of James Fenimore Cooper, identifies her narrative as a memoir written some 20 years after the events it records by her protagonist, Lakeland Quaker farmer Mark Greenhow. It’s the story of his journey to “Upper (i.e., eastern) Canada” in search of his sister Rachel, excommunicated by the Society of Friends after she had fled from a mission in York with her non-Quaker lover and eventual husband Alan Mackenzie, an employee of the bustling North West trading company. The illusion of a past time is beautifully sustained by Elphinstone’s detailed re-creations of indigenous (mostly Native Canadian and American) period detail, and by her narrator’s reserved and wondering voice, whose lilting, dignified rhythms perfectly capture his unshakeable goodness and innocence. Mark’s adventures take him not only across Canada’s vast expanse with the “voyageurs” who transport furs for sale but into broader understandings of his sister’s courageous and rebellious spirit, and of the integrity and value of cultures completely alien to all he knows: those of the native tribes caught up in the burgeoning war between old England and young America. Even more to the point are Mark’s evolving relationships with his half-French, half-Indian guide and mentor Loic, as well as with the elusive Alan Mackenzie, whose uncertain loyalties to both Rachael and his supposed political allies open the ingenuous Quaker’s eyes to moral complexities he grows to understand and acknowledge (e.g., asking himself “whether a man should be held guilty of a sin that is entirely invisible to his own conscience”). His voyage is thus a passage to greater wisdom, tolerance, and wholeness.
A stunning work of historical fiction, with many points of comparison to Canadian Guy Vanderhaeghe’s The Last Crossing.