24 September 2012

Review: Through Rushing Water by Catherine Richmond

When twenty-eight year old Sophia Makinoff doesn’t receive the marriage proposal she expected, she volunteers as a teacher for the Board of Foreign Missions, expecting to be sent to China. Instead, she is assigned to the Ponca Agency in the Dakota Territory, where she finds extremely primitive conditions and her fellow workers: James Lawrence, the agent, Henry Granville, the minister, Nettie, Henry’s mother, and Willoughby Dunn, the Agency carpenter.

Despite first impressions of Sophia as an educated lady and social climber, we gradually get to know her as the daughter of a Russian Army officer who escaped from Russia with nothing, and has lived in surroundings both palatial and extremely basic. She draws on her many experiences befriend the Ponco people, and works hard to help them as outside forces threaten the Ponco way of life.

Neither James nor Henry have positive feelings towards the local people, and the Army officers who occasionally visit are even less polite. Nettie is such a likeable and matter of fact character that it is hard to believe she is the mother of Henry, a self-righteous 'ninny' (as Sophia describes him). Will, a strong Christian even though not serving specifically as a missionary, has befriended the local people and teaches Sophia a lot about their culture.

Overall, Through Rushing Water is an excellent novel. The characters are real, with real hopes, fears and dreams. They are placed in difficult circumstances, and lean on their Christian faith to get through. They make mistakes as they learn and change. And there is a lovely romance element.

Through Rushing Water is broadly based on true events, and has been meticulously researched. There is a note at the end of the book in which the author explains which characters what aspects of the plot are based on fact, and this is enlightening. To modern readers, parts of the story (and aspects of the character’s personalities) seem racist and repugnant: not only were the Ponco not American citizens, they were not even considered human in the eyes of the law. I really enjoy historical fiction where I feel I have actually learnt something of history.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and BookSneeze® for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Catherine Richmond and the research behind this book on her website.

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