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Lamentations: A Novel of Women Walking West

Lamentations: A Novel of Women Walking West

Nora says: Historian Carol Kammen creates a moving, lyrical dramatization of the events of the first wagon train to set out for Oregon in 1842, told in the voices of the women in the company. From various backgrounds and different parts of what was then the United States, young and old, the girls and women bring us along on the long trek through unknown territory, noting their fears and hopes, through hardship and joy. A fictional sister to Isabella Bird’s classic A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, this is a lovely historical novel.

Lamentations is a novel about the first group of families crossing west to Oregon in 1842, from the perspective of the dozen women on the trip. Although none of these women left a written record of her journey, the company clerk's daily notations provided documentation of historical events. Based on these records and the author's own decades of work as a historian, Carol Kammen provides an interpretation of the women's thoughts and feelings as events played out in and around the wagons heading west.

In this novel the men are in the background--and we hear the women ponder the land, their right to be passing through, their lives and how they are changing, the other people in the company, the Native Americans they encounter, and their changing roles. Lamentations is about women's reality as wives or unmarried sojourners, as literate or illiterate observers, and as explorers of the land.

Kammen gives voice to these women as they consider a strange new land and the people who inhabit it, mulling over what they, as women of their time, could not say aloud. We see the mental and emotional impact of events such as the naming of peoples and lands, of a husband's suicide, of giving birth, and of ongoing and uncertain interactions with Native peoples from the Missouri River crossing all the way to Oregon. They face the difficulties of the road, the slow trust that builds between some of them, and the oddities of the men with whom they travel. These women move from silent witnesses within a constrained gender sphere to articulate observers of a complicated world they ultimately helped to shape.

Publication Date: 
September 1, 2021