An Honest Review by Susan Jarrett
Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon is a fictional account of the westward migration during the 1850s. Goodreads synopsis reads as follows:
The Overland Trail, 1853: Naomi May never expected to be widowed at twenty. Eager to leave her grief behind, she sets off with her family for a life out West. On the trail, she forms an instant connection with John Lowry, a half-Pawnee man straddling two worlds and a stranger in both.
But life in a wagon train is fraught with hardship, fear, and death. Even as John and Naomi are drawn to each other, the trials of the journey and their disparate pasts work to keep them apart. John’s heritage gains them safe passage through hostile territory only to come between them as they seek to build a life together.
When a horrific tragedy strikes, decimating Naomi’s family and separating her from John, the promises they made are all they have left. Ripped apart, they can’t turn back, they can’t go on, and they can’t let go. Both will have to make terrible sacrifices to find each other, save each other, and eventually… make peace with who they are.
As a historian, I am always intrigued with how fiction writers interweave imagination with truth. In Where the Lost Wander, Harmon does an exquisite job of taking us on the journey west from Missouri to California via the famous Oregon Trail. Using primary source accounts (ancestral journals) of the journey, Harmon is able to paint for us the very realistic experience of both the joys and hardships of what it must have been like traveling by wagon train across the untamed western frontier.
On the journey we get to know John Lowry, a half Pawnee man who serves as escort and interpreter on the trail. His persona is by far the stronger of the two main characters and Harmon does an excellent job making him a well rounded (albeit sometimes frustratingly conflicted) figure. In fact, it is Harmon’s depiction of the Pawnee and the Shoshone that is the true shining star of this novel. With her words, Harmon breathes life into a world that once was and is soon to be (and is now) no more.
Harmon does not participate in hero worship. Neither does she condemn. All her characters are flawed. All her characters are in need of redemption. She does not idolize the past. Instead she honors it by showing us both the beautiful and the ugly. She reminds us gently of what is to come (as we, the modern readers already know how the story of the Plains Indians ends) and evokes in us a deep sense of anguish for what has been lost. Harmon has done her historical research and it shows in this novel.
Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon is a story of endurance of the human spirit. It is a story of forgiveness. It is a tale about finding place. Is it perfect? No. Harmon admits there are some topics/scenes in this novel she was not comfortable writing about. And that translates. However, it was not enough to effect the overall quality of this book. If you are looking for a fantastic, well researched, realistic piece of historical Western fiction, then this is one for you!
Themes: Westward Migration; Native Americans; Man vs Man; Man vs Nature; Man vs Himself/Herself
Sexual Content? Yes. Handled with care.
Violence? Yes. Not gratuitous.
Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon was released in early Spring 2020. You can find a copy at a quality book seller near you! Also available as an audiobook.
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