BIG RIVER, BIG MAN by Thomas W. Duncan


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A giant of a book -- and one that spans three generations of 19th century American pioneering. There's Santa Fe, while it is still a somnolent volcano under Mexican rule, with traders invading its sleepy streets, and cross breeding of Mexican, Indian and the new Americanos contributing to its new birth. Here we have the trusting von Zumwalt, living on his pride in his father, the General, and the German way of life -- but beguiled into marriage with a tempting Mexican-Indian girl. Then his ""best friend"" and partner, Caleb McSwasey, cheats him out of a potential fortune, his daughter, Esperanza, who proves to be the fatal genius of the whole tale, his slave-mistress, and her twin children. The story shifts to Wisconsin and the Mississippi -- to logging and mushroom towns-to river traffic and eventually to railroading, and the panorama widens to include virtually all aspects of the burgeoning west. Esperanza tricks Caleb into marriage- and his jealousy disposes of one and another of the men she seeks to enmesh. But Jim Buckmaster was as hard-headed, as ambitious, as ruthless in his way as Caleb. Esperanza had her claws out for him- and Caleb plotted deviously to trap them, but it was actually only Caleb's death-victim of his ruthless wife's passion- that caught him in her trap. Everything he cared for that was good was lost; success, power and money alone were left. And finally- when he was king of the big river, it was the basic goodness and integrity of one man, Rolfe Torkelson, frontier lawyer, who defeated him. It is a complex story, fanning out through flashbacks to trace many phases of the drive west, and incorporating the Civil War in its final chapters. Two thirds of the way, the drive of power and interest compels attention; the characters live and breathe. For this reader, the last third lags in pace and vitality. But the whole provides a living canvas of a turbulent period....The publisher's big book, with extensive promotion and advertising scheduled.

Pub Date: Aug. 17th, 1959
Publisher: Lippincott