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Published on Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sacajawea

By Anna Lee Waldo

Reviewed by Kenneth Mark Hoover

 

Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo is a novel filled with American history, deep characterization and human emotion. It is easily one of the best western novels I've ever read.

Over 1400 pages long Sacajawea is packed with meticulous research. Every note rings true, even when Ms. Waldo takes a look at what Sacajawea's life might have been like had she not died in Fort Manuel Lisa in 1812. Waldo continues the saga of Sacajawea and brings the story to an end with her death in 1884. This might seem a contradiction for a story so meticulously researched, but this novel is first and foremost an historical romance. It is understandable, therefore, why Waldo chose to pursue the oral tradition that Sacajawea died in 1884 because it gave the author the chance to examine the rapidly changing west through Sacajawea's eyes.

    Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo

Of course, the crowning jewel of the entire novel is the Lewis and Clark expedition and Sacajawea's involvement. There is historical evidence the expedition might have failed if they had not brought Sacajawea along. Mostly because by her very presence she assured other Native American tribes this was not a war party.

The expedition to the Pacific Ocean is one of the most fascinating passages I have ever read in my life. And the inter-personal relationships all ring true, even when we don't want them to.

There has been speculation about a romance between Sacajawea and Captain Clark. But even here the author works with a deft hand. The romance we desperately want to happen never does. This is almost certainly historically correct. There is no doubt whatsoever Captain Clark held Sacajawea in great esteem and thought very highly of her, perhaps even harbored tender feelings toward her. He certainly thought enough of her to give her much credit for the success of their expedition in his writings (as did Lewis) and took it upon himself to pay for the care and education of her son (she was married to a French-Canadian trapper named Charbonneau at the time who accompanied them as translator) after they returned from the Pacific Ocean.

Waldo handles it all well and while the reader knows they care deeply for each other Waldo probably stays true to history in this regard and we don't feel cheated. As the novel ends Sacajawea begins to run into legends about herself. This is both closure to the story and bittersweet. It is a perfect ending.

This is a great novel, hands down.I cannot praise it highly enough. If you have not read it I urge you to find a copy. I think you will like it a lot.




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