Alex and I connected on such diverse subjects as love of apple butter and mustard (not together), and love of books and history. Alex’s pre-published novel The Maori House has already garnered an impressive list of prizes: last year it reached quarterfinals of the ABNA Awards in the US, this month, it has been selected for the long-list of the International Proverse Prize for unpublished writing and the long-list of the Lightship First Chapter Prize. I have already booked Alex for an ICFW interview when The Maori House is published.
Because Alex was writing about pioneer days in her native New Zealand, I suggested she might find my family saga of Idaho pioneers interesting. She responded with a review which I am thrilled to share:
Donna Fletcher Crow’s love of history shines out in this epic tale, centered on (in her words)
"valiant women, who pioneered in Idaho's desert before irrigation was available and still managed to keep journals."
The novel opens with Kathryn arriving from Nebraska to settle in Kuna, Idaho, at the age of seventeen— and from there, the pace doesn’t stop. This well-plotted story is hard to categorize— it has the elements of mystery, romance and historical saga, all skillfully interwoven. A diverse cast of well developed characters create plenty of tension and conflict, right down to the last pages.
Idaho is not a part of the world I know, but I had the good fortune to catch Ken Burn’s documentary series The West while I was reading this, which brought another dimension to the politics of this era of settlement of America, when competing dreams transformed the land.
Those competing dreams are central to this story and the author’s research— drawing on her own family history as a native of the Boise area and fictionalized events based on original pioneer manuscripts— is deftly handled and brings authenticity and insight to the lives she writes about.
Since this is published by Moody Press (and Greenbrier as an ebook), you’d expect to find some scripture references. Again, as events test Kathryn’s resilience— and her faith— these form an integral and natural part of her sense-making and motivation as the daughter of a preacher.
And having left her friends and family, how she is tested! Kathryn finds herself lonely in an alien, untamed land, where the nearest fresh water is some fifteen miles away; "a wilderness so hot and dry that the only growing thing is endless miles of rattlesnake-infested sagebrush."
If that’s not enough, the early farmer-settlers grapple with the challenges of irrigating a desert and face swarms of flying ants, packs of coyotes and hungry jackrabbits— and encounter their share of human pests too, in the form of gamblers, opportunists and shysters.
Well-written and consistently enjoyable, this is a deceptively easy read— you find yourself learning and reflecting along the way— and the story has a special resonance today, as so many parts of the world, including America, are suffering drought.
The next in the series picks up Kathryn’s daughter Elizabeth, and her experiences as a teacher in a country school during the Great Depression.
Thank you, Alex, my around-the-world writer friend. I can’t wait for the opportunity to review The Maori House.
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