Refugees and Natives

How refreshing it is to experience American history outside the dry and bland story told to us in classrooms across the country and across time. Kathryn Haueisen brings the people who made history to life. She has made them real and believable, relatable. She puts them in context to the events of their times.

The Separatists are not the cookie cutter characters with crazy ideas, as I remember them portrayed in textbooks. Nor are the American natives a caricature of welcoming and naïve Indians standing on the beach. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the characters in this book and seeing the world through their eyes.

Tisquantum (we remember him as “Squanto”), upon his return to America, tries to explain the baffling life he experienced in London, the crowds and how people there acquire food by trading with small pieces of metal. He tries to understand the cruelty of public executions he witnessed while in England, as well as being captured, mistreated and sold as a slave.  Worse, he returns home to find that two thirds of his people are gone due to the “great dying,” as a plague wiped out villages. He is a person who experienced and witnessed incredible events far outside of his ability to imagine. We feel his pain and his bewilderment.

Likewise, the Pilgrims arrive to a new world that is equally outside their imaginings. Coming to America is not a lark but required years of planning. Like all immigrants, the decision was not made lightly. Leaving one’s home to make a new life in an unknown world only happens when there are no other choices. The struggle to be, if not accepted, at least tolerated by others, follows them, even aboard ship among the sailors. The heartbreak of leaving behind family and home, shows just how intent they were to live with religious freedom.

What is most striking about Mayflower Chronicles, to me, is how Haueisen places the story in the larger history of the world; she connects the dots. History is typically recounted in seclusion. We learn about the English Reformation, the influence of the printing press, executions. We learn about the Separatists and the settling of North America and the encounter with Native Americans. Rarely do we find them told together, in conjunction with one another. So much of history happens at the same time. The way history is traditionally taught makes it difficult to see how the pieces fit together. I appreciate that.

If American (and English, and World) history were taught as a whole, students would find it far more compelling, I think.

Haueisen portrays individuals, both English and Indigenous, experiencing a moment in time that is both unique and paradigm-shifting as they struggle to understand one another while maintaining their own identities. This kind of struggle among Americans of all backgrounds continues to this day; it defines us, even as we evolve.

  • Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures
  • By Kathryn Brewster Haueisen
  • Green Place Books
  • 2020

978-1-950584-59-8

The Animals are Dying

“The animals are dying. Soon we will be alone here.”—the first sentence in the book.

Some books are hard to let go. They stick with you for a long time. Such is the case with Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy. On one hand, it is hard to put down; the reader follows the clues in search of why and how the protagonist came to be the person she is. On the other, the backdrop, the near (very near) future is so painstakingly sad that if you are a human being you will cry.

Life moves along much as it does right now. However, there are no wolves, no polar bears. There are very few fish in the sea and bird populations are swiftly dying off. I read this book weeks ago and I have not been able to shake it. Imagine; can you? No wolves left in the world. No polar bears. Is this the direction we are headed? For real?

Not only are the fish disappearing, but a way of life is going with it. Fishermen hang on to all they know with every fiber of their being. They don’t want another kind of job. They want to go to sea. They want to fish. To this they have devoted their lives and their livelihood and even sacrificed time with their families.

Just today, I read a news article stating that Whole Foods will stop selling salmon. The salmon they are getting are not large enough to sell. The salmon themselves are smaller, but the schools of salmon are also shrinking. At our house, we eat a lot of salmon. Fiction and reality often collide. I am afraid (terribly afraid) because I know that this fiction is based on fact.

Franny Stone is a lost soul with a complicated past. The book follows her as she follows the last migration of Artic Terns that travel from Greenland to Antarctica every year.  She hitches a ride on a fishing vessel, convincing the captain that if he will take her on and follow the birds, the birds will lead him to fish. They make an odd pair to be sure. The one fighting to preserve his vocation, the other as an environmentalist despising what he does, they find common ground in the personal.

As she travels, Franny misses her husband. She carries a deep hurt and guilt that is only revealed at the end of the book. The story flows back and forth through time, slowly revealing Franny’s past. Really, she is just one among an entire planet of people struggling to survive at the end of the world. In Migrations, what happens to the environment has a very real and very personal impact on everyone.

  • Migrations
  • By Charlotte McConaghy
  • Flatiron Books
  • 978-1-250-2040-28
  • 2020