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Across the Endless River    by Thad Carhart order for
Across the Endless River
by Thad Carhart
Order:  USA  Can
Doubleday, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

A beautifully written story, Across the Endless River imagines for us the time Pompy, the son of Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau, spends in Europe. The endless river is Pompy's description of the Atlantic, referring to the fact that his frame of reference is the Mississippi River.

Throughout the story, this juxtaposition of life in that long-ago time in America to the 'cultivated, sophisticated and aristocratic' Europe that Pompy comes to know is a thread that runs not only through Pompy's thoughts but also those of his benefactor, Duke Paul of Wuerttemberg, and is skillfully shown in their letters. The Duke has come to America to collect artifacts, and so Pompy's gift with the languages and cultures of the various Indian tribes makes him invaluable to the Duke in his feverish quest. This, too, becomes a subject that Pompy ends up questioning: how much do artifacts really tell about their owner's life, and is it appropriate to ask people to sell or give up what is precious to them and only barely understood by the purchaser?

Author Carhart shows great empathy in his depiction of a young American Indian who is just learning about love and life and who feels keenly his position of straddling two really disparate worlds.

2nd Review by Mary Ann Smyth:

Thad Carhart, author of The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, has created a story of Jean-Baptiste (the son of Sacagawea) as he may have lived the five years he spent in Europe in the 1820s. Born while his mother Sacagawea and father (Toussaint Charbonneau) accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition, he was raised as William Clark's ward in St. Louis and by his parents among the villages of the Mandan tribe on the far reaches of the Missouri River. He grew up with vast knowledge of his country.

Losing both his parents, he became the companion of Duke Paul of Wurttremberg, Germany. He traveled to Europe with the Duke and the Duke's collection of memorabilia of the plains Indians. The Duke wanted to preserve the heritage of these peoples and took his collection to his own country to help those in Germany and other parts of Europe understand the flora, fauna and the peoples who lived in the great expanse of the American West. Jean-Baptiste encountered the disdain of European society. The rich color of his darker skin was a dead give-away that he was different. Different didn't cut it. He was an outsider and treated as such, even though he spoke many languages fluently and was well read as well as being a musician.

He did meet some people, though, who made his travels with Duke Paul worthwhile. He asked questions and absorbed the answers. He learned about the opposite sex when he met Paul's older cousin, Princess Theresa, who freely enjoyed his company, both in the drawing room and in her bed. Whilst in Paris, he met and fell in love with Maura Hennesy, the daughter of a French-Irish wine merchant. Deciding to return to North America, his main goal was to persuade his fiercely independent love to accompany him.

Across the Endless River is a treasure trove of a portrayal of the times, both in North America and Europe. The 1820s are depicted with such entirety that it is possible to project oneself from a Plains Indian hut to the palaces of Europe. The research that went into the heart of this magnificent book is well incorporated to deftly tell the story of a fascinating historical figure. I knew nothing about Sacagawea's son before starting the novel but feel enriched for having read Across the Endless River.

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