Four generations of Native American women navigate life in a patriarchal American society in this debut historical novel.
Martin tells the story of the female lineage of her real-life family from the Civil War era to World War II. The story begins with Martin’s great-grandmother Minerva, a Native American woman married to a white Confederate soldier. While her husband fights in the Civil War, she defends herself and her children at home, and although she draws strength and pride from her Cherokee heritage, she finds that she must assimilate into 19th-century white American culture for her own protection. She instills in her daughter Jennie some of the teachings of her Cherokee family while also teaching her to hide her true lineage. As a result, Jennie develops a sense of empathy for other victims of discrimination, which she passes on to her own daughter, Thedis. The novel’s dialogue and internal monologues can sometimes feel a bit clichéd, but overall, Martin’s prose is consistently clear and polished. The storyline is easy to follow, and provides a fast, engaging read. At times, it seems overly idealistic in its portrayal of the women’s unwavering strength, and the characters might have felt more fully realized if Martin had addressed their internal struggles more often. However, the author conveys their actions in a manner that feels historically accurate for their time periods. The women’s victories aren’t sweeping or adventurous but are instead rooted in their abilities to handle adversity with quiet dignity. They may often be subject to their husbands’ unilateral decisions, but they still advocate for themselves and their children the best they can. Each generation suffers the loss of family members, but each woman copes and remains a source of support for their families. They are inextricably linked by their parallel experiences and the lessons they pass down, and these bonds provide readers with hope and emotional relief.
An absorbing, warmly written historical tale.