Cherokee America by Margaret Verble: A review

Cherokee America is the name she was given at birth but she is known to family and friends as Check. This is her story.

It is 1875 in Cherokee Nation West (now Oklahoma) and Check is about to become a widow. She had married a white man and they raised five sons together after their first baby, a daughter, died. Now the two oldest boys are in their late teens and are considered men. Of the three younger boys, the youngest is a two-year-old toddler. Check and her husband are successful and wealthy potato farmers but now her husband is dying from a disease that is never explicitly named but seems to be stomach cancer. Check's time is spent mostly caring for him as the two older boys must take increased responsibility for the farm.

In addition to the family, a black couple who are the family cook and handyman live as part of the household and are treated as part of the family. Besides these characters, there is a mind-boggling number of others that we must get to know and keep all the relationships in mind in order to follow the story. It is a story that includes full-blooded Cherokees, half-bloods, blacks, and whites. Part of the story is how all of these mixed races live together in the community and how the various relationships play out and are informed by the racial makeup.

One of the things that I really liked about the book was its exploration of these relationships. Another thing that I especially liked was the fact that the author wove in so much of Cherokee history and culture into the narrative.

The narrative contains multiple plotlines which make it a challenge to summarize. There are murder and mayhem and missing people, including a child's disappearance which turns the community upside down, and there are heroics and selfishness, humiliation and acts of kindness. Through it all, the plethora of characters makes it sometimes hard to follow. But there is also simply the day-to-day happenings of life on the farm. All in all, it's a lot to take in, but mastering the cast of characters and their relationships makes it all a bit easier.

This is a sprawling tale of complex familial relationships and alliances and diverse cultures and through it all our guide is Check. We experience things through her eyes. She is a vivid and sympathetic character and we learn in the author's afterword that she is based on a real historical figure, as are a few of the other characters.

I had not read Margaret Verble before but I am impressed with her writing. This was a story that could have veered out of control, but Verble kept to her narrative and told a complicated tale in an understandable and relatable way. One of her previous books, Maud's Line, was a contender for the Pulitzer Prize. I can easily see this one following in those footsteps.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars 

Comments

  1. I looked up Margaret Verble. It is always good to have another teller of these tales.

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  2. I had the feeling, since I started reading the first paragraph of your review, that Check was based on a real person. It seems that this novel is a grand tapestry of history and relationship dynamics expertly weaved.

    ReplyDelete

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