‘The Wasichu [white men] made many promises and kept but one; they promised to take our land and they took it.’
This is the heartbreaking quote from a Native American chief that ‘One Promise Kept’ starts with.
Those of you who read last weeks blog will recall that there are two authors from Croydon Writers whose work I have got to know. Anand Nair, whose book I reviewed last week is one of them. Michael Round is the stupendous other.
I never even realised that I was into historical fiction before I read Michael’s books. Before my 52 week reading challenge started, I read his trilogy on Egyptian pharoes and I was totally mesmerised. To see through the eyes of people who have lived centuries before you is kind of like getting a lift in the TARDIS with the Doctor. It’s better than watching it on TV. You actually get into the heads of these people and live their lives. You actually get to BE them. It is, at the risk of seeming a little melodramatic, nothing short of a miracle.
Michael’s rendition of the White and Native American conflict in ‘One Promise Kept’ doesn’t disappoint. He crafts characters so precisely that you can practically reach out and touch them. Not only that, but with the myriad descriptions of aromas that Michael puts into the book, you can pretty much smell them too!
You know the drill of course (you usually do with historical fiction.) White Americans and Natives jostle for land in the USA. Trust between them is low and not helped by the in fighting amongst the Native American tribes. The scene is set for the Native Americans to fight for both their lives and their way of life. It is a fascinating scenario and one that had me hooked from the very first page.
Having said this I must add that the one thing I am not into is war. As Edwin Starr said, what is it good for? Well apart from making my eyes glaze over… absolutely nothing. As this book dealt with multiple battles, it was inevitable that there would be some discussion of regiments and strategies and rankings. Why do they have so many rankings? I think it’s done deliberately to confuse the rest of us! Speaking of which why did all the men in the US army have to have names that began with a ‘C’?! I had to write down the different between Chivington, Custer, Clinton and Cramer because I kept muddling them all up. Though short of actually getting into the TARDIS and going back in time to tell them to change their surnames by deed poll I don’t think there’s much we can do about this!
Whilst I have come to love historical fiction, there is always a part of me that wonders where the reality ends and the fiction begins. Perhaps with history there is always a bit of licence in the retelling. Perhaps our view of what happened is always coloured by who and where we learn it from.
I feel like I have just scratched the surface of the subject matter with this book. Whilst reading it I discovered this Radio 4 podcast on Custer, who I’d previously never even heard of. The world is of course full of things that I haven’t heard of. But in this case I have Michael to thank for igniting an interest in a topic I didn’t know I had. This was a book of two halves for me. Whilst the warcraft aspect of this book was not for me there was a frank and touching depiction of Native American life that was so captivating. These were real people (funnily enough that’s what they called themselves too, in contrast to the Wasichu who were some kind of ephemeral life form) leading real lives. Somewhere out there an actual guy called Yellow Hair sat in a teepee, hunted buffalo and fought other tribes and the Wasichu. He was real! And it is this reality that for me fans the flames of intrigue and makes me want to find out more. Sometimes the story doesn’t end with the book…
Next week I’ll be reading Mythos by the ever fabulous Stephen Fry. Come back next Monday – it’s a bit of a treat!