Thanks to Anna from FSB Associates for sending me this book for review.
Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau lived in the first half of the 19th century. He was born to Sacagawea, a native American famous as the translator for the Lewis and Clark expedition and to Toussaint Charbonneau, a French Canadian fur trader. Baptiste’s story begins in the wilds of America as his family journeys west with the great explorers. William Clark took Baptiste under his wing and became his guardian when his parents left to continue trapping after the expedition was complete. With Clarke’s influence and those of others in his circle, the eighteen-year old Baptiste traveled to Paris and then Germany as an apprentice to a young Duke whose life’s work was documenting the natural sciences. With Baptiste’s command of languages and his knowledge of native and non-native cultures he was able to impart much to the interested Europeans. But the very purpose of his presence in Europe also led to some difficult culture divides which further enlightened Baptiste.
Many years ago I read the huge novel, Sacagawea by Anna Lee Waldo. I enjoyed it so much and was therefore very excited when I found out about Across the Endless River. I can’t remember many details about Waldo’s book aside from the fact I liked it but I do know that Across the Endless River is quite different. It touches just briefly on Sacagawea (it is about her son after all) and his life as a young boy. It is rich in detail where it needs to be – such as the description of Clark and Baptiste bonding (page 15):
Cruzatte had begun to play his fiddle, one of the old Breton tunes the men favored and Pomp stamped half-rhythmically to the music. He gave forth little squeals, surprised and pleased at the explosions of wetness that his feet made upon the captain’s leggings. It turned into a dance as Clark lifted his feet and turned the boy back and forth. Seaman, Clark’s good-natured Newfoundland, barked and wagged his tail, striding into the water to join in the fun. Everyone laughed, Clark most heartily of all, and Sacagawea saw that more than one man had to turn away to hide moist eyes.
Clark goes on to play an important role in Baptiste’s life.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It has all the elements of the kind of historical novel that I enjoy – adventure, travel and an array of cultures. I also particularly enjoyed how the author managed to convey Baptiste as a young man encountering sights, scenes and people for the first time. It was like looking through his eyes at awe-inspiring events. From an article published by Thad Carhart, titled Imagining the Past in Paris, the author writes:
Another clear difference was the absence of cars, though factoring them out mentally also involved imagining the presence of horses...lots of horses. As I examined the numberless paintings at Carnavalet, I thought a lot about the look, the sound, and the smell of tens of thousands of horses plying the streets of Paris close to 200 years ago. Merely disposing of their manure -- and Paris was very well organized in this department -- was a Herculean task daily. And, just as in our day, when playboys often drive Porsches and tradesmen more likely use vans, the paintings reveal fancy thoroughbreds ridden solo by dandies, sturdy draft horses pulling huge wagons, and bony nags hitched to battered carts.
For anyone who enjoys historical novels set when America was young (and Europe was, well, not), this novel is for you.