Three years ago, we visited Quebec City, and one day, we took a day trip north, to Tadoussac, where the Saguenay River flows into the St. Lawrence River. It was beautiful, of course, and it all looked so vast to me. I was in awe; I wish I had better pictures to convey the overwhelming landscape. I kept imagining what the first settlers must have thought when they saw the land from their boat: the mountains like massive boulders and the seemingly endless woods.
These were the images I had in mind when I read Cinda Gault’s This Godforsaken Place (which takes place further west). It tells the story of emigrants Abigail and her father, who had been hired to teach English to settlers from Scandinavia. Neither Abigail nor her father had really planned ahead for their new life in Canada, and when her father unexpectedly dies from consumption, Abigail has two choices: She can take her father’s place in the school, marry the man who hired her father, and forever stay in town, OR she can fulfill a dying man’s last wish by bringing a large amount of money (of tainted origin) and a gun that once belonged to an employee of the Pinkerton Detective Agency to someone called Shea Wyatt, who is friends with Annie Oakley (the famous American sharpshooter).
Armed with a gun, a charming horse, and a vague sense of newfound freedom, Abigail sets out to travel to the United States to find Buffalo Bill Cody and become friends with Annie Oakley. She accomplishes both and gets hired to be a helper in Bill’s Wild West Show, moving to New York City and even to England with the show. However, things become complicated when Shea Wyatt is accused of murder, and Abigail has to decide exactly how far she is willing to go to get justice.
I really enjoyed reading this book. It was a good story, and I learned quite a bit about Canadian history. Despite my interest in the exploration and settlement of America, my knowledge of Canadian history is sorely lacking. So it took me a while to understand how important the Metis Rebellion, Louis Riel, and Gabriel Dumont were to the book’s story. Then I had to read up online what exactly happened with this event and the people to follow along. I certainly didn’t mind that; after all, learning new stuff is one of the reasons I read. But I have to admit that there were times when I wished some things had been explained or described in a little more detail. Still, I consider this shortcoming to be mine, not the book’s.
Be that as it may, the underlying question is certainly a fascinating one: in a fledgling society, determined to do things “better,” how much does the fate of the individual matter? And should an individual be willing to accept injustice in the name of the greater good?
I have to thank Naomi for first bringing this book to my attention. I had already resolved to purchase this book for my birthday when I was offered a free review copy by Brindle & Glass. So thank you to them as well. This book has certainly rekindled an interest in Canadian history.