Miller’s historical fiction debut tackles America’s growth during the 18th and 19th centuries as told by Native Americans, the settlers who laid claim to the land and those caught in between.
History is a funny thing. As the saying goes, it’s often written by the winners, with little discussion of the peoples and customs crushed in the name of “progress.” Most accounts of the United States’ expansion prove no exception, focusing on the birth of a nation rather than the costs to its native population. In his novel, Miller attempts to present a more balanced view, giving both “red” and “white” characters the chance to speak their piece. Caught in the middle is Stephen Ruddell—a child of the frontier and decidedly pro-American, until he’s kidnapped by the Shawnee at the age of 12. Befriended by his captor, the historically famous warrior Tecumseh, and adopted by the tribe’s chief, Stephen (renamed Sinnatha) soon embraces his new life. He spends more than 15 years with his adopted family, battling encroaching white settlers in order to preserve native lands. But the white men keep coming and spilling blood. To stem the violence, Sinnatha and Tecumseh’s leader, along with many others, sign the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. As part of the agreement, all white “captives” are returned to their families. Sinnatha once again becomes Stephen; stuck between two worlds, he’s fully embraced by neither. Miller jumps back and forth between the past and present-day 1845, using Stephen—now a grizzled old man telling his tale to a historian—to effectively detail Native American life and the ways it was destroyed. He also underscores how differently the warring factions viewed and treated one another. Wishing only to maintain their traditional ways, the Native Americans rarely underestimated their enemies and usually treated their prisoners as equals. The same cannot be said of the population that took the land by force. As Tecumseh says, “Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth?”
An engaging, mildly disturbing account of how this country came to be.