Jane Kirkpatrick has again accomplished what she does so successfully -- find and bring to life those stories of 19th and early 20th Century America that have been mostly forgotten or overlooked. With her pen she creates portraits of the women who were not mere bystanders, but key figures in settling our nation. In THE MEMORY WEAVER, we experience the story through the diary of Eliza Hart Spalding, a missionary to the Nez Perce Indians of the Oregon Territory in the 1840's, and through the actions of her daughter Eliza Spalding Warren, beginning a few years after her mother's death in the 1850's.
The elder Eliza and husband Henry (she always addressed him as Mr. Spalding) made a difficult journey west to start a mission and school as requested by the Nez Perce/Nimiipuu people who wished to learn about the Book of Heaven. The Spaldings were well received by the people, partly because Eliza was so adept at learning their language. She also used her artistic talent to paint depictions of the parables and Bible stories which spanned the two cultures. Four children were born to the couple, the eldest being daughter Eliza. When Eliza was ten, she was sent to live among other mission workers so she could attend school. The group is brutally attacked by some Cayuse Indians and Eliza, taken hostage, is forced to be the translator for her captors. From flashbacks (definite PTSD victim) that Eliza has through her teens and adult years, we learn that she witnessed the massacre of those around her and not only felt guilty for surviving but also felt betrayed by the Nez Perce who do not rescue her. From her mother's diaries, we also learn that young Eliza was a key witness at the trial that followed the 30 day + hostage situation.
As the book opens, Eliza is 14 and almost totally responsible for the care of her siblings as her father falters following his wife's death. When 19 year old Andrew Warren begins to notice Eliza, she sees a way out of the strict, confined world that has become her existence. As she dreams of a life with Andrew she is still haunted by occasional flashback to the massacre. Years later, when her father has remarried and she has wed Andrew, Eliza learns that her husband has plans to move over the mountains to Touchet, only miles from Waiilatpu, site of the massacre. As Kirkpatrick takes us on that journey, we see how fears and struggles can be created from memories incorrectly woven and hope can emerge when the threads of truth and forgiveness are allowed to unravel.
Jane Kirkpatrick is one of my favorite authors and I really have learned a lot about the Northwest from her writings. Again she has brought life to historical characters and events that I knew nothing about. In this novel, the major event, the Whitman Massacre occurred before the beginning of the story and is mostly explained piecemeal through the mother's diary and young Eliza's flashbacks. While people in the Northwest may know about this event, I didn't and I felt that I still don't understand all the details of the attack, hostage situation, negotiations for release, and subsequent trial, even after reading the book. I've since found a very good explanation of the event on Kirkpatrick's website and suggest that anyone starting the book should read that first. you can also start reading chapter one on that site. With a sound background on Eliza Spalding Warren and the Whitman incident to help readers, I can fully recommend this title. I want to thank Revell Reads and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to review this book. All opinions are mine.