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Shadowbrook: A Novel of Love, War, and the Birth of America    by Beverly Swerling order for
by Beverly Swerling
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

Richly detailed, Beverly Swerling's Shadowbrook provides a telling glimpse into the time of the French and Indian War in the northeastern part of the U.S. and Canada. We learn about political, religious and commercial life, while following the stories of various settlers and Indians.

First we meet the people and the land of Shadowbrook, a prosperous plantation in the northeast. It's home to Quent and Cormac, half-brothers who are the focal characters of the story. Life on the plantation is complicated enough, with slaves, tenants and Quakers who run the local Indian trading post, as well as influential relatives who live in Albany, the nearby city. Then there is the direct contact with the Indians, especially the Potawatomi, from whom Cormac's mother comes. The brothers spend their summers with the Indians and absorb all aspects of their culture as their own, thus enabling them to become 'bridge persons', able to live in both worlds and explain each to the other.

Into all of this comes a young woman who is traveling to Quebec to become a nun in the Franciscan Abbey of the Poor Clares. Through her we are introduced not only to the Franciscans but also to the Jesuits and the civil government in Quebec. This allows us to understand the political and religious strands that cross each other and influence the progress and outcome of the war. But Swerling's great strength is shown in the chapters about the Indians and their ways. Her very sympathetic portrayal of the many tribes allows us to see this cauldron of events from their point of view as well as from the English and French perspectives. The tragic clash between the Indian's and the white man's understanding of the land and how to live on it is very clearly delineated for us, and we see how easily misunderstandings lead to tragic consequences for all.

The many threads of the novel mean that there are a lot of characters, and Swerling helps us out by providing a list of the important ones at the beginning of the book. (I missed an indication of which are historical figures, but that is a minor quibble.) What makes this book so gripping is that all this history is unfolded through fictional but plausible characters who live and love intensely. You're sure to enjoy Shadowbrook.

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