Abraham has come from England in the early years of American settlement to work with his uncle who has sponsored his transport He is surprised by the reception he receives: he is thrown into the barren barracks with the other poor, desperate workers and sent to peddle the wares of the business to surrounding folks, to the best of his ability. Abe, as he comes to be known, begins his journey as a traveling peddler by landing surreptitiously in the home of a stunning, fiercely independent, Cherokee woman. She takes him in briefly, cares for him, and although amused by him, does not return his sudden, youthful passion. As he seeks to reconcile this woman’s past and discover where her heart truly lies, he grows to understand not only himself, but the complex stratification of the society he sees growing around him.
My first impression of this story was actually incredulity – that a story was being written about a Jewish man falling in love with a Cherokee woman hundreds of years ago in this country. It just sounded to me an unlikely scenario, given the insular world of the Jews at that time. As I read further, what I came to appreciate was that it was a clever vehicle through which to describe the era of the Trail of Tears. This dark period in our American past is when President Andrew Jackson authorized the displacement of thousands of indigenous people from their land and moved them in caravans westward. This atrocity was committed under perilous conditions, and thousands of Native Americans perished because of disease, starvation, unwieldy weather conditions and a lack of adequate provisions from the American government. In telling this story through the eyes of Abe, a Jew and an outsider trying to find where he fit in among the various strata of peoples, there is often a delineation of the pecking order and a redefining of that pecking order as Abe continues to struggle with it. Where do the slaves of the Cherokees fit in? Where do the slaves of the Whites fit in? Where does he fit in relative to them all? As he is sorting this all out, we see how the groundwork of all of it is being sorted out for future generations – and how some sought to fight against it but, sadly, lost.
So, at first glance, I wasn’t sure about this book, but as I continued through it, it gained more and more value to me and I appreciate it for its very powerful messaging. I feel it educated me and gave me insight into this bleak blot on our American past.