Saturday, February 28, 2009

Reviewing: "Many A River" by Elmer Kelton

1855 in the area of Texas around Weatherford frequently saw Indian attacks on travelers and settlers. The Barfield family is passing through the area having left Arkansas for hopefully a better life in Texas. Mr. Alexander Barfield is driven to find a better spot than the last spot they passed even though the rest of the family thinks they have passed several very good spots. He's ready to go again just as soon eight-year-old Jeffrey brings the family dog, Brownie, back to the wagon.

The fact that the dog ran away and had to be found saved Jeffery's young life.

Jeffery hides as his mom and dad are killed and his five year old brother Todd is taken away. Unable to defend them as he is weaponless, he is left to bury the dead and mourn. Soon, a posse chasing the Indian finds him and helps him finish the task which soon includes burying his brother. Then the posse will take him and help him start a new life somewhere else as the last member of his family.

While Jeffrey believes his brother is dead it was, in fact, another captive boy that was killed and buried in Todd's place. Todd is very much alive and in the custody of an Indian raiding party. Prisoner of the Commanaches, he might be indoctrinated into the tribe or more likely he will be traded to the Mexican traders, sometime soon for whatever they can get. Whatever his fate, life as he knew it is over and he faces a struggle just to survive.

Against the backdrop of the years preceding the coming Civil War to its furious beginnings, the boys on separate life paths survive amid the harsh realities. They will be reunited again but have many dusty miles to travel and many rivers to cross with much to overcome in a land where human life has little value.

Rich in Texas culture and history, author Elmer Kelton showcases again why he has won the "Spur Award" seven times. Though the jacket copy as well as this review gives away the fact the boys will be reunited, the getting there provides a very suspenseful journey. That along with complex characters, plenty of cultural descriptions and commentary as seen through the characters, and authentic story lines make this another very enjoyable read.

As does the history the book includes. Not only does it relate some of the history of the brutality of Union Major Chivington (who was a real piece of work), it also relates the brutal battle at Glorieta Pass in 1862. In this novel, as is often the case in real life, those going into the start of an armed conflict have a much different perspective of the future then when they come out. One thing that has always struck me is how many on both sides thought the Civil War would be brief and over quickly. How wrong they were has been proven by history then and many times with other wars since then. War comes alive for the reader in this novel in a way that few books achieve. So too do the years leading up to the war which found Texas and the surrounding areas an often brutally violent place where life, regardless of gender or ancestry, was very cheap.

Many A River
Elmer Kelton
Forge/Tom Doherty Associates
June 2008
ISBN# 0-7653-2050-9
Hardback (paperback is releasing March 31, 2009)
335 Pages

This material was provided by the good folks of the Plano Texas Public Library System. The library system is faced with a proposed budgetary cutback of over 1 million dollars according to local news reports. Support your local library system!

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

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