Across the Endless River
Doubleday, Sep 2009, $26.95
Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau was born during the Lewis and Clarke expedition in 1805; his mom was Sacagawea while his father Charbonneau was a French trapper turned translator. As an infant he made it to the Pacific; as a boy he went to school in St. Louis and at his mom’s village. He learns several languages growing up in his divided lineage.
European naturalist Duke Paul Wilhelm of Wurttemberg is in the United States analyzing and classifying North American flora and fauna. Baptiste assists him and accompanies him back to Paris where he becomes the toast of the nobles though not one of them; only the Duke’s cousin Princess Theresa understands his duality but she has a pragmatic outlook that excludes the mixed breed. Baptiste meets and falls in love with Irish expatriate Maura Hennesy. However, in his early twenties after five years on the continent he decides to go home with his Maura at his side.
This is an entertaining biographical fiction of the youngest member of the Lewis and Clarke expedition. Baptiste is a fascinating character whose bi-racial background makes him in at the highest levels of European aristocratic society and yet never really in. Fans will feel they are transported to the first half of the nineteenth century in Europe and Americas as the imagery is incredible vivid. Although more a series of anecdotal occurrences that bring to life time and place than a cohesive novel, ACROSS THE ENDLESS RIVER is a fascinating historical fiction that takes a fresh timely look at contrasting two worlds through a lead character who has a foot in both and in neither.