Title: Across the Endless River
Author: Thad Carhart
No. of Pages: 301
First Released: 2009
Synopsis (Courtesy of B&N): “Born in 1805 on the Lewis and Clark expedition, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau was the son of the expedition’s translators, Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau. Across the Endless River compellingly portrays this mixed-blood child’s mysterious boyhood along the Missouri among the Mandan tribe and his youth as William Clark’s ward in St. Louis. The novel becomes a haunting exploration of identity and passion as eighteen-year-old Baptiste is invited to cross the Atlantic in 1823 with young Duke Paul of Württemberg.
During their travels throughout Europe, Paul introduces Baptiste to a world he never imagined. Gradually, Baptiste senses the limitations of life as an outsider. His passionate affair with Paul’s older cousin helps him understand the richness of his heritage and the need to fashion his own future. But it is Maura, the beautiful and independent daughter of a French-Irish wine merchant Baptiste meets in Paris, who most influences his ultimate decision to return to the frontier.
Rich in the details of life in both frontier America and the European court, Across the Endless River is a captivating novel about a man at the intersection of cultures, languages, and customs.”
Comments and Critique: I love historical fiction. It offers me a chance to learn more about a person or about an era or a culture while reveling in my love of reading. It’s like a pleasurable history lesson without the boring teacher droning on about dates. I agreed to review Across the Endless River solely because of my love of historical fiction, and I am supremely glad that I did.
While I love historical fiction, I find myself not reading it as often as I would like. Mr. Carhart reminded me why I love this particular genre so much. The descriptions of life on the frontier and in 1800s Europe was amazingly and gloriously detailed. I was able to immerse myself into the sights and smells of the scene. I mention the smells because it isn’t often that scents are described in such detail, but I was able to imagine the scent of a huge herd of buffalo or a southern German forest. Descriptions like that definitely add to the overall historical aspect of the book, in my opinion.
Baptiste’s struggles to find his place in society definitely highlight similar plights and cause the reader to reflect on what life was like for those considered inferior. From royalty looking down on their servants and villagers to women struggling to enter into a profession considered only suitable for men, Mr. Carhart brings these struggles to the fore and offers the reader a chance to look at history from another angle, one not often mentioned in the history books.
The other interesting aspect of the book was the lesson regarding learning for learning’s sake without thinking of the consequences. Given the furor over environmental issues in today’s society, the discussion of lost or conquered civilizations and a scientist’s duty to preserve those civilizations any way possible does seem very pertinent to today’s issues. Should we become so concerned with preserving specimens that we fail to see the big picture? What is a scientist’s duty to civilization, to a culture?
As enjoyable as it was, Across the Endless River was not without its drawbacks. From one, there was a constant switch in narration that was extremely distracting. Switching from Baptiste to Paul and even to Maura left the reader feeling confused and prevented one from truly being engrossed in the book. The narrator’s omniscience also felt as if it was a part-time plot device – when it suited the plot, the narrator was omniscient. When it was not necessary, then the narrator was as much in the dark about feelings and inner thoughts as the reader. Again, it was distracting.
Other than that, as I already mentioned, I really enjoyed this book. I had never given much thought to Sacagawea other than what she did for Lewis and Clark. To see the expedition from her eyes and then see the results of that expedition through the eyes of her son was a historical thrill. Having lived in Germany and having specialized in European history, to read about life as a royal in Europe from the inside circle was also engrossing. I have already passed along this book to my husband, who is currently reading it without any prompting from me. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in historical fiction, especially life on the frontier.
Thank you to Anna Suknov from FSB Associates for the opportunity to review this book!