The pace of life is picking up as a tide of vaccinations begins to drown the COVID pandemic. We’re feeling safer. However, there still is cause for caution, and that could mean staying home with a good book. Recommendations:
“A Road We Do Not Know: A Novel of Custer at the Little Bighorn” by Frederick J. Chiaventone (Simon & Schuster 1996) is a unique treatment of the most studied battle of the American Indian wars in Dakota Territory in the 1870s. The author states in an introductory note that his novel is not an academic history. He has taken a few liberties with the historical record in order to advance a fictionalized account of the runup to the battle, the extended fighting and the aftermath. It works because “the real focus of the book is the experience of battle as seen from the perspective of ordinary men (and women) drawn into circumstances beyond their control.”
The text constructs dialogue that might have taken place among native chiefs, officers of the 7th Cavalry and men in the ranks. There is no way of knowing what they actually said, but within the historical context the conversations are plausible. Moreover, the author brings to the story his knowledge of the practices of the horse soldiers in 1876. He’s a retired cavalry officer and Army strategist, and former professor at the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College. He gives voice to lower rank soldiers and native warriors that in traditional histories is reserved for principal players: General George A. Custer, Sitting Bull, Gall, Crazy Horse, Major Marcus Reno and Captain Frederick Benteen. Even those major figures come off with more humanity and flaws than most histories allow.
It’s a good read. But remember, it’s a novel.
“The Searcher” by Tana French (Viking 2020) is a tense tale set in a remote Irish village that shrouds secrets best left undisturbed. A former Chicago police officer buys a fixer-up cottage. Try as he might, he discovers he can’t let his investigative instincts lie dormant when a local kid asks to help find his missing brother. Cal Hooper just wants a quiet escape from a nasty divorce and the stresses of big-city police work. But he can’t walk away from the kid and the hush-hush disappearance of the brother.
The author weaves a masterful story that delves into the darkest places in an otherwise idyllic village. Things are not what they seem. The charming villagers are not so charming. As Hooper is drawn into the puzzle, he confronts age-old questions of right and wrong. It’s a wonderfully suspenseful psychological mystery.
Speaking of books, Saturday, April 24, is Independent Bookstore Day. Zandbroz Variety in downtown Fargo is celebrating with book signings by local authors. From 11 a.m. to noon I’ll be there to sign copies of “Forum Communications Company; A Narrative History 1980-2019.” Another Forum author, Danielle Teigen, follows at noon to 1 p.m. with her marvelous “Hidden History of Fargo” and “The Fargo Fire of 1893.” Several other authors will be along, including Spider Johnk with his “It’s True. I Never Liked the Guy,” featuring laugh-out-loud cartoons and words about the Trump years.
The day begins at 10:30 a.m. with a story hour. Looks like a good time.
Zaleski retired in 2017 after 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He is the author of a new history of Forum Communications Co. Contact him at email@example.com or 701-241-5521 or 701-566-3576.