Thursday, September 4, 2014
Book Review: Light in the Wilderness
Historical fiction. Based on true events. I mention these things first because I think it's important to have perspective. I tend to distinguish between historical fiction and historical romance. Historical fiction--in my mind--may or may not have a romance element--but the focus tends to be different than a romance novel. The focus of A Light in the Wilderness is NEVER will the heroine fall in love and get married, or, will the heroine live happily ever after. There's nothing lighthearted about A Light in the Wilderness.
Letitia is a freed slave. She was granted her freedom in her master's will. She values her freedom dearly. She doesn't take it for granted. She knows all too well what it means to be owned, to be someone's property. Life isn't easy for Letitia. It isn't easy for her on page one. It isn't easy for her on page three hundred. The novel, for the most part, is set in the 1840s and 50s. There are many, many people who don't respect Letitia's "freed" status and try to take advantage of her.
The novel opens in Missouri. Letitia's former owners is heading west to Oregon. Letitia could go with them all. But part of her still feels owned when she's around them. She feels disrespected. In many ways, they still order her about and treat her unfairly. So she decides to choose a new life. She temporarily takes laundry work at a hotel. She also starts working for David Carson. She'll keep house for him in exchange for room and board for her and her dairy cow, Charity. Over several years, David decides that he wants to marry Letitia. He knows that they can't legally be married. But they could have a common marriage, of sorts. Especially if they keep it secret from their neighbors and head out west to Oregon. Does Letitia fall madly in love with him? Not really. But she considers his offer. She thinks about what life will be when he's gone out west. She thinks about how hard it would be to try to make a life for herself in Missouri. She decides that maybe she'll be happier with him, that maybe they'll have a good life together in Oregon. That doesn't mean she doesn't have doubts and concerns. What would happen to her if he died? What would happen to the children they have together? Would they be provided for if he died? Could they legally inherit his property or estate?
Half the novel focuses on their trip west--on life on the Oregon Trail. Readers meet others on the trail. Primarily readers get to know Nancy Hawkins and her large family. (Nancy's husband is a doctor). Letitia and Nancy become best friends. The two will eventually be neighbors. The second half focuses on life in the Oregon territory. It covers many years. Some years happy, some years not. Letitia makes new friends including Betsy and her grandson. (Kalapuya Indians)
Letitia always finds life a challenge. It is a serious book well worth reading. I would definitely recommend Jane Kirkpatrick's A Light in the Wilderness.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible