Tuesday, March 20, 2012

True Sisters by Sandra Dallas

I have read all of Sandra Dallas' novels, and once again she has written one that kept me glued to the pages and even waking up at 5 AM to finish it this morning.  

True Sisters is about the Mormon Handcart debacle of 1856.  Mormons recruited many people from Europe to come to America to eventually reside in Salt Lake City (aka Zion).  In order to get there, immigrants had to travel to Iowa City, IA, where they were to load up handcarts and walk--yes--walk the 1300 miles to Salt Lake City.  All before the snow flew in early Fall.  Not only did they have to walk, but they had to push and pull these handcarts along the way.  Why?  Because most immigrants could not afford the money for a wagon and team, so in order to get as many people to Salt Lake City, the Mormons decreed that this would be how they would get there--much less costly for the immigrants. Only problem is that the handcarts were made out of green wood, and held 17 pounds of worldly goods for each family.  They were prone to breaking down because the wood was poor and the distance was long.  Can you imagine walking 1300 miles?  And so many women were pregnant, and gave birth along the trail.  Makes complaining about walking across a parking lot to your favorite store seem pretty pathetic, doesn't it?  

The story centers around some of the women of the last group that left Iowa City:  Anne, an Englishwoman who's not embraced the Mormon faith; Louisa, who's married to Thales, the charismatic leader of the group; Ella and Nannie, two Scottish sisters; and Jessie, a single young woman traveling with her two brothers.  Only Jessie and Nannie are single women on this journey, sure in the knowledge that they will be married once they arrive in Salt Lake City.  

The trials each of these women go through on this four month journey are heartbreaking and would test anyone's faith and fortitude.  Horrible weather, lack of food, tragedies happening every day--all of these test the women's certainty that giving up their homes to travel to Salt Lake City was the right thing to do.  

And how about the men in this story?  They are all strong, deep in their Mormon faith, and expect their wives to do what they ask of them.  In 1856 a man was the head of the household, and made the major decisions for a family--often against what the wife wanted.  I can say some of the actions the men take in this novel will irritate you--but they do it out of a sense of duty, and a profound belief that what they are doing is part of God's plan.

You will love this book.  I recommend reading some non-fiction about the Mormon Handcart episode in American History.  It is one of those forgotten moments in our times that should be re-examined and discussed.  You may feel that Mormonism is portrayed harshly in this novel, but I didn't think so.  The Saints (as the Mormons call each other) are kind, loving people who go out of their way to help each other--sometimes at their own peril.  Sandra Dallas examines how we use faith to justify our actions, make decisions and accept what seems like more than a person can bear as part of God's Plan.  

You'll feel happy, sad, and anxious for the safety of the characters in this book.  You'll come to love these women as I did, and I'm so glad the author added an epilogue at the end to tell you how they all ended up.  This novel has reawakened my interest in pioneer women!  I must start looking for more books about these incredibly strong and resilient women who helped shape our country.

This book will be out at the end of April in hardcover.
Rating:  5/5 for a well written historical novel based on true events.  Characters are well rounded and very human.

1 comment :

  1. This was a piece of history I was not aware of and truly appreciated the amount of research Ms. Dallas did to present the story with as much accuracy as possible. The idea of hundreds of people traveling across the country in this fashion was absolutely intriguing to me - a great story idea. While Ms. Dallas can write with the best of them, in my opinion, this novel was less than successful. The beginning was fine and the ending was fine but the novel suffered from lack of subject matter in the middle section. It is very difficult to tell an interesting story when there is nothing happening but sickness, accidents, death, and starvation. While she is such a masterful writer that she brought the terrible experiences to life on the page, it was just too much of the same thing over and over again and just too much misery. It reminded me of a couple of other books that suffered from the same thing --- "Unbroken", a nonfiction book about WWII POWS in the Pacific and "The Kitchen House" a novel about slavery in the southern United States. Many people loved both of those books and can handle unending suffering in their reading, but I found it to be just too much. I had a hard time picking the book up knowing I was going to be subjected to that much depressing material. There was also a bit too much broad-brush of the characters. Almost every female character was strong and wise while almost every male character was largely an egotistic fool.