Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Review: One Thousand White Women

Summary: One Thousand White Women is the story of May Dodd and a colorful assembly of pioneer women who, under the auspices of the U.S. government, travel to the western prairies in 1875 to intermarry among the Cheyenne Indians. The covert and controversial "Brides for Indians" program, launched by the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, is intended to help assimilate the Indians into the white man's world. Toward that end May and her friends embark upon the adventure of their lifetime. Jim Fergus has so vividly depicted the American West that it is as if these diaries are a capsule in time. -- St. Martin's Press

I received ONE THOUSAND WHITE WOMEN: THE JOURNALS OF MAY DODD by Jim Fergus last December from a fellow book club member. Each year, we bring a wrapped new or used book to our holiday meeting and do a Yankee swap; and I lucked out and ONE THOUSAND WHITE WOMEN. I was absolutely thrilled to receive this novel because I had heard such good things about it. Unfortunately, I didn't get around to reading it until my friend (the same one who gave it to me) selected it for our November 2009 book club pick.

I thoroughly enjoyed ONE THOUSAND WHITE WOMEN, and I have to say that I thought the storyline was terrific. In 1874, the Cheyenne chief Little Wolf goes to Washington, DC to try to make peace with the white men (and at the same time assure his tribe's survival.) The Indians and the U.S. government agree to trade 1000 white women for 1000 horses with the hope that these women would marry men in the Cheyenne tribe and have babies. The government thought the women would civilize the Indians; and the Indians wanted to use their children to save their tribe and enter the white world. The idea that 1000 white women leave their current situations in life to head west and marry Cheyenne Indians sounded fascinating to me. I admit that I was a little curious about what type of woman would agree to this program.

While this agreement between the U.S. government and the Cheyenne Indians never really happened, the book was written in such a way that the reader could totally believe these incidents occurred. I thought Mr. Fergus did a wonderful job of telling this story and making the characters and incidents seem real. I also appreciated his descriptions of the west as well as the Indians' way of life. This book did not read like fiction or even historical fiction to me -- it seemed very authentic.

I'm always a little hesitant when a male author decides to write a book in a female's voice; however, I thought Mr. Fergus did a very good job with it. There were a few times when I wondered if a woman would really think or act as May did; but overall, I found her character to be believable. Although May was very ahead of her time as well as very outspoken, so she didn't have to be portrayed as a typical 1870s woman.

One thing that I found very entertaining about this book was the character development. I thought the author did an excellent job of creating female characters who were credible and had situations in life that would make them leave their families and homes to head west for the unknown. I also liked how the author developed these characters throughout the book and showed how each of them adapted to their new living conditions in their own way. Since the book told May's story through her journals, I especially appreciated her character. I found May to be a very strong and loyal woman; and she also had a great sense of humor. By reading her journals, I felt as if I really got to know and understand her; and I even liked seeing her fears and vulnerabilities come through in her writing.

The book's ending really packed a powerful punch to me. I guess I shouldn't have been all that surprised with it, but the last few pages of May's journal managed to affect me a great deal. I liked that the author included a Codicil as well as an Epilogue at the end of the book (written by different characters at different points in time) because it actually brought the entire story to a close for me. I also think these parts really contributed to the feeling that this book was a true story.

This evening, the Preschool Moms Book Club will be meeting to discuss ONE THOUSAND WHITE WOMEN, and I'm predicting that it's going to be a very interesting meeting. I have spoken with a few of the women and they all seem to like the book. There is a readers guide available from the publisher with ten questions and another one available on the author's website with eleven questions. We certainly won't have a shortage of things to discuss. Personally, I'm very interested in talking about May's personality and actions, and I can't wait to see what my friends thought of her.

17 comments:

bermudaonion said...

You've been a reading machine lately! As I read the description, I wondered if it was a true story and have to admit I was relieved to see it's not. The book does sound fascinating. By the way, what's a Yankee Swap?

S. Krishna said...

This book sounds simply fascinating! Thanks for the review!

Christy said...

Oh, I couldn't finish this one actually. This was maybe four years ago that I picked it up? The premise sounded so interesting, but the execution (the narrator's voice, the story) was not compelling to me and I abandoned it.

Jenny Girl said...

This story idea is interesting to me. Not something that is writtenm about too moften, if at all. Thanks for the lovely review Julie.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Well, that's a new one: swapping women for horses! I hope you let us know your book club's reaction to this book!

Raspberry said...

I have wanted to read this so bad but haven't had a chance - great to hear more good things about it. :)

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

What an interesting premise for a book! This one is now on my wishlist. Thanks for the great review :)

Maria said...

This book sounds really interesting.

http://fantasysink.blogspot.com/

Just Mom said...

Glad to hear this one is good - it's in my TBR pile. I had it on my list for Women Unbound but I guess the outcome will determine if it is a good fit - trading women like cattle would make me think not!

Anna said...

This sounds really interesting. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Amused said...

This was recommended to my book club about a year ago but we all found the premise a bit hard to swallow. Glad to hear it was enjoyable after all!

HODGEPODGESPV said...

i have facebooked your posting. very well done. i think i have to put this book on my wish list.

bmead said...

read One Thousand White Women for 2 different book clubs. both groups enjoyed it and love the history behind it. lots of discussion points. thanks for reminding me of a good book club pick!

Beth F said...

This sounds absolutely fascinating. I think it would be perfect for me. I may add this to my Women Unbound list.

writergal said...

from some recent interviews I've done (Chris Bohjalian, Darin Strauss) part of the attraction of writing is to be able to write in a completely different voice.

bookie said...

Although the premise of this book might sound interesting, it turns out that as far as being historical, it is a fabrication; that being said, I would never mistake this writing for that of a real flesh and blood woman; it reminds me of cross between a gothic romance and pulp fiction-- the heroine is always the most beautiful and interesting one of the bunch, to hear her tell it, and the dashing brutes are all attracted to her above any other. She seems to have sex on her mind almost constantly, which is hard for me to imagine in the brutal life of a western pioneer woman, particularly one who has already had several children and should be over the immature fantasies of a teenage girl who cannot wait to be ravished by men she has just met.
As far as I am concerned, Mr. Fergus writes in the voice of a testosterone-driven male's wildest dreams.

Miss P said...

I have just read this book and really devoured it. It is absolutely believable as a story. The author did a great job with this task. But...I would think that written by a female instead of a male writing in a female voice would have made it even better.