Saturday, February 16, 2013

One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus

Every Christmas my husband picks out a book for me.  I love the tradition, and he often picks books that are perfect for me!  I really enjoyed this one, but only recommend it hesitantly.

One Thousand White Women is historical fiction, developed from an actual event that took place in 1854.  A Northern Cheyenne chief asked a U.S. authority for 1,000 white women to marry 1,000 men in his tribe.  His thought was that the children of these marriages would help his people assimilate into the white culture.  He wasn't taken seriously, and it wasn't long before all his people were either slaughtered or forced onto reservations.  BUT this story imagines what it might be like if the request had been granted.  What kind of women would have gone?  What would their experiences have been?  Would it have helped relations?

I like the idea.  I think it's interesting to look back at a moment in time and how different circumstances may have affected it.  The story is told through journals and letter of the fictional May Dodd.  She is a likeable character, and she is well-written.  Toward the beginning as the women are travelling west on a train, a less-experienced friend asks May for marriage advice.  She tells her "it is my limited experience that the best way to make them happy--if that is your true goal--is to wait on them hand and foot..."  I think this is a good example of the writing style.  While it is sometimes funny, I almost feel like it is too forced.  I'm not sure if I've felt this way before, but it bothered me that the author, a man, spoke so intimately of how it felt to be a woman: childbirth, marriage, motherhood.  It just wasn't believable.

But I did like May.  One great quote from her is, "I have found that the best, and certainly simplest defense of one's faith, or lack thereof, is the truth."  I've thought about this a lot.  I tend to sugar-coat things I'm afraid others don't agree with.  It is usually better to just stick with the facts.  There's another part where May is describing the dancing around a fire.  She's poetic with phrases like "frenzy of color," and "rhythmic heartbeat of the earth."  I love her summation of the event, "How the gods watching must have enjoyed their creation."  Beautiful isn't it?

The story sometimes feel a little cliche, but I do think the author is able to acurately address the enormous cultural gap between the Native Americans and the white settlers during the late 1800's.  For the white women, I think some of the happiness they discover living among the Native Americans seems realistic.  Working hard and not having time to sit around and worry about trivial things.  They intimacy of family and how the women help each other out.  But for me it just doesn't quite hit the mark for me.  I finished it, but I didn't think it was amazing.

Also, there is some horrible violence.  I skimmed it, but it is awful.  I also felt like the wedding night scenes would have been just as effetive if they had been edited way down.  Do you know what I mean?  You can create the scene without having to describe everything, seriously.


Tara @ Tales of a Trophy Wife said...

I love that Graham picks a book for you every year:) This one sounds interesting.

Sharlene, Mom, Grammy said...

I agaree with Tara--fun tradition of Graham giving you a new book each Christmas.

From your book review, I can tell this is one I will skip, and I appreciate the review so that now I know to avoid it. :)

I was intrigued however with the idea of "mixing" the races to see if it could spur better relations. Interesting concept.

PS ~ I have always had a really hard time reading anything with violence. Even with the best of books, I have to skip the violent parts all together.