The world of Odie and his fellow travellers could not be more different to my world. The Gilead River bears zero resemblance to the northern fringes of Sydney and my childhood was spent with a loving family who provided me with emotional security as well as the essentials of food, shelter, clothing, and access to quality education and health care. And yet, William Kent Krueger tapped into universal themes of journeys, resilience, family and home to craft a novel that was accessible and poignant, even when readers like me are miles, decades, experiences and worlds apart.
Following unspeakable cruelty at the Lincoln School for orphaned and abandoned Native American children, four children escape and canoe down the Gilead River in search of safety, family and home. It is a perilous journey of survival, both physically and emotionally, with high stakes at every turn.
No stone was left unturned in the creation of this epic story. Complex characters were woven in seamlessly throughout the adventure, each with their own back-story determining their actions and relationships with others. Reflecting on the story made me appreciate the author’s skill in not succumbing to two-dimensional characters, regardless of how large or small their role. Each character had a unique and authentic voice, and there was no lapse into either preachy or prosaic narration. The characters told their own stories in their own ways, from detailed descriptions of sharing morsels of food to grappling with the big issues of life and the nature of God.
The setting was almost a character itself. The hardships of the Depression cast an understandable gloominess over the story as Odie and his friends struggled to survive. While the Gilead River was a powerful metaphor for the trials and tribulations of life - calm waters and strong currents - the exquisite storytelling protected it from cliche. Similarly, the depiction of Native Americans was respectful and confronting.
Some of my favourite books examine consequences from a single moment, a single decision. This Tender Land was littered with hugely consequential moments for all of the characters, and resulted in a page-turning, yet very tender, book.
Please find here an assorted mix of what I tend to read - new books, old books, birthday gifts, gifts to myself, books from my to-be-read pile, Book Group books, fiction, non-fiction, memoirs - basically a weird assortment of goodies!
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