I was so taken in by this book, that when I was finished reading it I went straight to Wikipedia to get even more out of Daniel Boone’s story, and the history of some of the other individuals involved in it. Not only was it a wonderful telling of the events of the first half of his life, it was also a probing and deeply emotional look at his life as a man in the mid-18th century.
Daniel Boone’s exploits into the American frontier have made him a folk hero, a legend of his time. When reading about Daniel Boone in Wikipedia, we learn about his pioneering, his exploits into the frontier, his battles with the Native Americans. But, when reading Hawley’s novel about this famous legendary man, we hear his thoughts, experience his self-doubt, and feel his anguish, while marveling at the wondrous life he lived.
The book starts off with Daniel Boone as an 8-year-old boy living in a Quaker community with his parents and siblings. He idolizes his older brother, who loves to wander for days, hunting. The family eventually become outcasts and go in search of a new place to settle. Daniel never stops searching. As he tells his Grandfather near the beginning of the book, “I will not be old, I will not be like you. I will win all the fights, I will never tell my secrets. I will not go rotten like you in this place. I will find a real paradise. You never did.”
I sit and have a little dream of all my boys and girls with land enough, and beautiful land when I am gone. They will be entirely free. This is all anyone could wish for the future.
The dialogue throughout the book felt authentic; the thoughts in his mind, as well as the dialogue between himself and others, including the Native Americans. Boone is able to maintain a sense of humour throughout all his ordeals, hardship, and grief. His experience as a captive of the Shawnee also felt right (not that I was there…). The customs of the people on both sides were fascinating, and, at times, his experience with the Shawnee reminded me of The Orenda.
You whites. There is never enough for you. Never satisfied. that is your greatest trouble, you ought to know it.
I also found fascinating the relationship with his family and his wife throughout the book. He was close to them, yet he longed to be gone, in search of paradise. There was no way to keep in touch, no way to know whether he was dead or alive, or when he would be back. Daniel carried his family and the ghosts of his dead loved ones with him, but when he was gone a long time, their “realness” faded away. Particularly when Daniel is with the Shawnee, we get a sense of him feeling torn between two lives; his new life with the Shawnee, and his old life at the fort. He doesn’t even know if the fort is still there or if any of his family is still alive.
For so long I wanted not to think of you and the rest. Now you are all I can think of.
One thing I did wish for in the book was the point of view from his wife, Rebecca. It would have been nice to have the perspective of Rebecca’s days at home with the children, waiting for Daniel to come back, wondering if he is even going to come back. I also wondered what it was like for them waiting at the flimsy fort in Kentucky, living in fear of being captured by the Natives, running low on food, wondering what ever became of the men who ventured out to the salt lick. But, that would probably be a whole other book.
I thoroughly enjoyed my adventures with Daniel Boone, right down to the last few devastating paragraphs. He may have led the kind of life that makes history, but, in the end, I think he was just a man who wanted a good place to call home. He spent his life chasing after what he wanted, while the ghosts of his past chased after him.
I have no answer. I never have had it… I have nothing for anyone, I bring only disaster.
If one could know what was coming, would one want to see it, or would one avert one’s eyes and carry on?
Many heroic actions and chivalrous adventures are related of me which exist only in the regions of fancy. With me, the world has taken great liberties, and yet I have been but a common man. -Daniel Boone (Wikipedia)
As Alix Hawley says in the Author’s Note at the front of the book, “His story is about trying to find paradise, and about what happened when he brought about its ruin.”
* Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book. This does affect the content of my review. All quotes in this review are taken from an uncorrected proof.