October 05, 2011

Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo

This book is not for the faint of heart or those who want a quick read. At 1328 pages for just the story and an additional 61 pages of notes this is a titan of a read. But every page is well worth it.

It starts out when Sacajawea is a young girl and covers her capture and enslavement by the Mandan tribe. While with the Mandans she is subjected to rape at around age 11 (the book makes it somewhat hard to pinpoint her age at times), learns the art of glass making, and then is eventually sold off to another tribe. This tribe is a lot kinder to her and she has a few easy years until she is lost in a wager to her future husband (the perverted Toussaint Charbonneau).

We next see Sacajawea pregnant with her first child (John Baptiste also known as Pomp) when she attracts the attention of Lewis and Clark. As her man Charbonneau is to be an interpreter for the expedition, her wit and intelligence cause Clark to ask for her to come along as well. He also reasons that a party traveling with a woman and baby will not look like a war party.

Regarding her travels with Lewis and Clark, while the travel west was covered extensively, the return was not given as much detail. Upon their journey they meet several local Indian tribes and the author seems to really hone in that all these people are fond of the native salmon, rotting or fresh, and the character's disdain for the meal. In all, I expected this to be a large part of the book when in reality it was only 300-400 pages worth of the book. While the rest of her life was definitely worth writing about, it seems like the author could have spent more time on this subject as it is one of the more well known parts of her life. The return back east lasted only a couple of chapters and didn't seem to give as much depth as everything else.

Upon her return from the expedition they settle peacefully in St Louis where Clark's wife teaches her to sew and embroider and they have no worry of starving in the lean winter months (something that is shown quite prevalently in other parts of the books when she is with her native Indian tribes).

One day, when the beatings from Charbonneau finally push her to the breaking point, she packs up her belongings and leaves and her ten year old son Baptiste stays with his father. She is taken in by a tribe of Comanche and remarries. Over the course of 26 years she has an additional five children, but only two out of them survive childhood.

When her husband dies she leaves and seeks out the white man, hoping to find her first born son. The rest of the book follows this journey until she's well into her eighties and has settled down with her daughters and grandchildren.

Sacajawea faced many hardships and Waldo's book explores many of them. It also faces her triumphs and her sorrows and really makes you believe you know everything she went through and can take a real peek at her life. Waldo also did a wonderful job of incorporating quotes and citations from numerous journals of the time at the beginning of each chapter. It provides factual background that helps make this fictional telling more believable. Each chapter starts out with an excerpt and she bases the next chapter loosely upon that excerpt, creating a story line for each chapter within the story itself. Her writing itself is very detailed and she seems to put a lot of emotion behind her words.

Copyright 1984
1328 pages

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