In a novel that “retains the complexity, immediacy, and indirection of a poem,” Glancy brings to life the Cherokees’ 900-mile forced removal to Oklahoma in 1838 and gives us “a powerful witness to one of the most shameful episodes in american history” (Los Angeles Times).
Poet, dramatist, short-story writer and essayist Glancy (winner of an American Book Award for Claiming Breath) turns her talents to the novel, recreating in this bone-true tale the sorrow, struggle and betrayal suffered by the Cherokee along the Trail of Tears. In the winter of 1838-39, 13,000 Cherokee were forced to walk the Trail of Tears from North Carolina toward the "new territory" of present-day Oklahoma. Following the Native American belief that many voices are needed to tell a story, Glancy employs a multitude of narrators. There are the voices of Cherokee of all ages and clans, of white soldiers and preachers, and snatches from actual historical records. The central narrator, Maritole, emerges to tell her personal story of "pushing the bear," a dark heavy burden of anger, impending madness, physical distress and, above all, doubt in herself and her heritage as she perseveres in the grueling walk. Maritole's shaky relationship with her husband, and the deaths of her baby and parents, push her into a relationship with a white soldier, Sergeant Williams. Ultimately, however, he can't fathom the Cherokees' mystic, symbiotic relationships with the land and with each other. At times, the novel proceeds as slowly as the march itself, but it rewards the reader with a visceral, honest presentation of the Cherokee conception of story as the indestructible chain linking people, earth and ancestrya link that becomes, if not unmitigated salvation, then certainly a salve to the spirit. (Aug.)