Saturday, April 15, 2017

One Thousand White Women - The Journals of May Dodd - An Audiobook Recommendation

I have this knack for choosing books to listen to with a wide range of characters whose backgrounds require accents. It's the most delicious surprise every time it happens.

One Thousand White Women - The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus is one of the new "stand-out" titles in my log of audiobooks to which I have listened.

A co-worker and I were talking titles one day a few weeks ago. Sometimes I hope the books friends recommend DON'T sound appealing because my list is already so long, but there was something about this story that compelled me to add it.

The general gist is that during the Grant Administration, the US Government agreed to a deal with the Cheyenne tribe to trade one thousand white women for horses in order to help transition the Cheyenne people into the white culture that was coming their way in full force. Historical fiction at its finest. There was no such campaign in American history, however, the author writes a convincing story about the hypothetical scenario.

As the subtitle denotes, the story is written within the context of May Dodd's journals. It was a masterful way to tell such a story. This is a book that doesn't let go of its reader or listener quickly. I miss the characters five days later.

The historical detail is breathtaking. The images he creates of the characters--both white and Native American--are stunning. There is a lot of Cheyenne dialect sprinkled through and it was wonderful to hear someone pronounce the foreign sounds.

I was amazed by the authentic way Fergus captured the voice of May--particularly in light of the fact that she was a character who lived more than one hundred years ago. I kept saying to myself, "A MAN wrote these words! He nailed it!" And then I'd think, "Please let me get Derrick's voice right when I return to my novel." Fergus's writing inspired me.

When we first meet May Dodd, she's a patient in a women's asylum in Chicago. She's been placed there against her will by her affluent family who are disgraced that she's left her station in life to live with the foreman of her father's company and borne her lover's two children.

Everything about her circumstances is heartbreaking, but it's a story about a woman who has gumption and grit and the determination to make the best of things. She demonstrates this tenacity in white society and also when she joins the people of Chief Little Wolf.

The beauty of historical fiction is the way it functions as a mirror reflecting one's own life and times through the characters of another time and place. It was excruciating to listen to the Army men discuss their plans to take over the lands of the natives with zero remorse or consideration for the fact that the land belonged to the natives. I had to confront my whiteness and it was uncomfortable, shameful, and heartbreaking. I hated knowing that generations ago it is likely that my ancestors played roles in stories like this.  We are better for confronting these harsh truths of our lives. It's the only way we can improve things moving forward.

Fergus writes with such grace and elegance about the native tribes. He displayed their humanity and the dignity with which they lived in harmony with nature if not always with other tribes.

This book has something for every reader/listener: drama, humor, accents, battle, sex (toward the end of disc five is one of the most beautifully written loves scenes--again, bravo, Fergus!), community, consequences, justice, injustice, and heartbreak.

On audio, the story is on 12 discs and is 15 hours long. I listened to it over about a week-and-a-half on my daily commutes to and from work. It would make an awesome companion on a long road trip, particularly if you happen to be driving out west. One Thousand White Women would also make an excellent book club selection. After I finished the story, I googled Jim Fergus because I was so taken by his writing. It turns out a second volume of what is to be a trilogy is coming out in mid-2017 in the US. (It's already published in French. He apparently has a big following in France.)

If you decide to check it out, please let me know what you think.

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