Whenever I pick up a Jane Kirkpatrick historical fiction title, I know that I will be reading about a unique slice of history with a central character based on a real person, probably a strong woman who faced unusual hardships amid a changing society. Issues of faith and family are frequently wrapped in the accepted social mores and the possible enticement of a changing world. Tackling some rich, historically authentic stories means that Kirkpatrick's books always read a little slower for me. There is much to consider and the story lines, especially the character development is so much richer than most historical fiction. Recently I read A Clearing in the Wild, book one of two about Emma Wagner Giesy and the people of the Bethel, Missouri society, a Christian Utopian society who believed they were modeling their life style on the early Christians. As the book opens, the group's leader Wilhelm Kiehl has decided that everyone will move west to the Oregon Territory to start a new colony away from outside influences. First, a group of ten scouts will travel west, secure land, and then send for the others. Among the chosen is Christian Giesy, who had dedicated his life to scouting and recruiting for the religious colony. Now a man in his forties, he has just requested permission to marry the much young Emma Wagner.
Jane Kirkpatrick reveals that as she studied about the Aurora Colony which would eventually develop from these pilgrims, she learned that Emma Wagner Giesy was the only woman who made the initial journey with the scouts. Long told stories indicated that Father Wilhelm Kiehl did not bless this marriage, and in fact, sent Emma on the dangerous trip west with new husband as a punishment and time of trial. The story that Jane has constructed from that knowledge is a wonderful one, and it is indeed a story of trials, hardships, and questioning. Meant to live apart from the world, the scouts ignored their own basic needs (and Emma's and her newborn's) as they tried to build as many shelters as possible for the coming group. Cold and almost starving, they could have reached out to nearby settlers and Native Americans for assistance, but felt compelled to follow Kiehl's directions to the letter. Meanwhile the leader remained in Missouri in relative luxury. Predominately, this is Emma's story as she strives to fit into an adult wife's role in this group she has lived in all her life. As her love for her husband and her family grows, and as she meets others who have settled in the west, her questions grow. Her faith in God does not falter, but she begins to see community in a new light.
The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were times of great change and struggle for American women. Jane Kirkpatrick continues to select interesting women, lost among the pages of our history and heritage, then she breathes life into their past so we can understand just a little better what happened.
I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes. All opinions are mine.
If you are interested in Jane's writings, she has a facebook page here and has a blog called aneswordsofencouragement.blogspot.com