Once again I was in need of an audio book for my commute. I actually found this in my Chirp audio books email. I vaguely recalled Richter from my high school literature course (Conrad is a favorite name of mine). When I read that this story is set in the part of the Northwest Territory that becomes my state, Ohio, I knew I wanted to read it. This was the first time that my mind, after 13 years, registered that I actually live in Ohio and not Indiana! Most of my life has been spent in one of four places in Indiana, with breaks in Illinois (where I was born and went to 2-4 grade) and Wisconsin (K-1 grade) and Kentucky for 6 months as an adult. I’m a Hooiser in my brain. I had state history–a 4th grade staple in the USA, in Illinois and my kids had it in Indiana, so I’m very behind on Ohio history. I read David McCullough’s wonderful Pioneers to fill in many of the gaps. In fact, it makes a great companion to this novel and the two novels that follow in Richter’s Awakening Land Series.
The Lucketts crossed over from Pennsylvania into what is now Ohio in the then Northwest Territory, not long before Ohio gained statehood. Map found here.
“As far as the eye could reach, this lonely forest sea rolled on and on till its faint blue billows broke against an incredibly distant horizon.”
Sayward Luckett, is the eldest of the Luckett children. Along with her parents and siblings she moves from Pennsylvania to the Northwest Territory not too long before statehood begins breaking up the territory–say the 1790s or so.. Settlers at this point, must clear a spot in a forest to build a cabin. Her family does just that. While her father hunts to put meat on the table, her mother takes care of the rest of the family’s needs. It is the hardest of “hard-scrabble” lives. A candle is a luxury. But, father Worth Luckett is a man of his time–he wants room to spread out, to hunt, to carve a life of privacy for his family.
“You kin smell the Fall,“ Sayward one day reminded her mother.
The trials of the family are many, but this is not a depressing book. They are not 21st century or even 20th century people–they expect death, do not know anything but hard, physical work, and have a deep pride in the independence–the way Americans traditionally were before the 1960s counter-culture hit, followed by today’s Oprah-navel-gazing and Woke b.s. These folks stood on their own two feet and asked for no handouts.
Sayward, too, has ideas for her life, as do her siblings. In this book, the first part of a trilogy, we see her reach the age of independence and watch as her siblings, too, start to come of age.
This is an incredibly well-told and plotted story. The use of the local dialect and historically correct language made it all seem so real. Richter’s use of folklore and dialect led this book to be studied in a paper published in the journal Midwest Folklore in the 1950s and earned the author comparison to Mark Twain. I must point out, if you are an animal lover, iirc it is chapter 8, the wolf story? Just fast-forward or skip. You don’t want that one. It’s a couple of pages at most in an otherwise outstanding book. I liked it so well I have already started the second book.
The Trees (The Awakening Land Book One) by Conrad Ricther