I received a free copy of this book from Revell Reads, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for an honest review and my participation in a September Blog Tour.
The Memory Weaver is the story of Eliza Spalding Warren the daughter of missionaries to the Nez Perce, Henry and Eliza Hart Spalding, in Oregon Territory in the mid-1800s. Using Eliza Hart Spalding’s diary and various other accounts of true events, Jane Kirkpatrick tells the events of the Cayuse uprising and the effects it had on relations between the natives and whites, but mostly on Eliza Spalding Warren, taken hostage at the age of 10, forced to translate for her captives, and how she is finally able to use her mother’s diary to piece together the events her childhood memories have blurred.
After her mother’s death, 13-year-old Eliza takes on the burden of her father’s household and mission work as he moves the family from Waiilatpu to Brownsville and begins a new mission, having been dismissed by the Mission Board due to jealousies and misunderstandings, and not being allowed to stay in Waillatpu where the natives were kind and had not taken part in the uprisings, but cared for their white friends and wanted to learn the Jesus stories. Eliza works hard cooking, sewing, cleaning, and watching over her younger siblings, and travelling sometimes with her father to other villages to share the gospel. Her father has become a hard, stubborn man with his mourning, and does not wish to lose Eliza’s help as she approaches marriageable age. He sends east for a wife, causing resentment in many ways: his new wife, Rachel, is unable to cook, not even boil an egg, and had Eliza not taken her mother’s wedding ring from her trunk, he would have given it to Rachel. This she would not tolerate. Working just as hard as ever and being warned off marrying the boy who loves her, Eliza takes drastic steps to escape her father’s household and begin her own life’s adventure.
This story is well-told. It begins showing the bond between mother and daughter, the two Elizas, and then moves forward to ‘Liza as a teenager with her work, her relationships, and that nagging memory of the time of the massacre with its blurred half-truths between what she remembers and what she has been told. Her story is interspersed with chapters from her mother’s diary, giving us glimpses into the past of which ‘Liza herself is not fully aware, weaving them together as one. We are slowly made aware of what ‘Liza has suffered and her attempts to control the world around her. We see her emerge as a young wife and mother, trying to figure out what her mother would have said or done to smooth the way and create a safe, loving environment for her young family. And when her father finally gives her the diary, almost at the end of the story, ‘Liza gradually pieces together the whole past.
This is a story that begins gently, and progresses rather slowly at first, establishing relationships past and present, and dropping subtle hints of the terrifying events ‘Liza has experienced in her young, pioneer life. Her admiration of her mother and attempts to emulate her, shine through, drawing us to the young girl, her strength of character, her cleverness, and her faith. Most of my “information” about pioneering and western massacres has, sadly, come from old black and white television adventures and I had no familiarity of the Cayuse uprising — an unfortunate past of which we all in North America should have a better understanding. The story is told here with faults and misunderstandings on both sides, and shows a coming together for closure, at least for ‘Liza and some of the Nez Perce friends of her early childhood. It is poignant, unflinching, well-researched, and irresistible. A bit slow to get into but it includes a map (always a strong point with me), and includes an interview with the author and discussion questions for reading groups/book clubs at the end. The characters gradually take a firm hold on you, and carry you through to the finish. There are several adventures that capture your imagination and this is definitely worth reading. * * * *