Monday, March 16, 2020

Book Review: Chesapeake by James Michener

Until now, I had never read Michener. For some reason I had the pre-conceived notion that his stories would be long and boring. I am happy to announce that I was wrong. While Chesapeake by James Michener is indeed a long novel, it is far from boring. It is a captivating account of the families who settled the colonies and waterways of the eastern United States. And their ancestors in the Delmarva region over the next 400 years. 

Reviewing Chesapeake by James Michener


I was in the mood for a story that highlighted life in the outdoors. As I searched my local library's digital selections I chose Chesapeake with the thought that if I find it to be over-rated, under--whelming, and difficult to read, at least it was free. I was surprised that I was immediately hooked with the first character.

This story begins in 1583. Pentaquod, of the Susquehannock tribe, is a widower who has voiced an opinion against the plans of the tribal council. As a result, the family of his new love interest has refused to allow her to marry him. He is looked upon with suspicion by the members of his village. Pentaquod does not want to war with the northern tribe and he wants to continue to live in peace. Because he disagrees with the tribal council, he is increasingly an outcast. He flees the village for parts unknown downriver.

"It was toward morning of the third night, when he had had only two small fish to eat in three days, that he came to those falls which his people called Conowingo, and here he faced the test which would determine the success of his escape. When he approached the white and leaping water he intended to drag his canoe ashore and portage it a long distance downhill, but as he paddled away from the middle of the river to the safety of shore.... "

Pentaquod's journey south by canoe from the Susquehanna River to Chesapeake Bay were stories that seemed familiar. The water and wildlife descriptions are similar to what can be experienced by those of us who sit along the banks or kayak these waters.  

Pentaquod had never traveled as far as the open water of the bay. He chose an island on the eastern shore for his new home. There he is introduced to Blue Heron's, crabs, and the natural rhythms of life on the water. Later, he joins a part of the local tribe (later named the Choptank) and lives a long, mostly peaceful life living on the rivers and in the marshes of that area. Michener's descriptions of the flora and fauna make me feel as though I am sitting there, on the banks of the Choptank river. 

In 1606, Captain John Smith brings ships and crews to the New World with a plan to "conquer Virginia". He also brings Edmund Steed. The Steed family is one of the families we follow over the centuries.

In Chesapeake, the focus is on a 400 year saga of these families who settled the area. Each of the families intertwine with the others over the years. While the characters, and an island on which one of the main families settle, are fictional the issues are historical. We are reminded how the people in the first colony barely survives. We are reminded that many of the first settlers are fleeing religious persecution and how that continues in the New World. As time goes on, "letter brides", indentured servants, and slaves join the growing population. Public whippings - including that of a Quaker woman - are the norm of the day. I was reminded that settling this country was no easy task. And this was just the beginning.

James Michener paints a picture of the area and of the families whose ancestry intertwine over time from the 1500s to the late 1970s. I will think of them every time I sit along the banks of the local waterways or watch the water spilling from Conowingo Dam.




Related Link:

Not long after I began reading Chesapeake, BarbRad reviewed The World is My Home by James Michener. She explains that in this memoir he shares stories of his life, travels, interests, and writing. I've added this memoir to my reading list and look forward to learning more about the author who wrote the engrossing story I'm reading now.


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6 comments:

  1. Dawn Rae, like you, I have never read any James Michener books, even though his name and books have been a familiar part of my library browsing or best seller list reading for many years. The length of his books always appeared to be daunting. But I have made many driving trips north & south along the Eastern Shore over the years, up the Delmarva Peninsula, along Chesapeake Bay, and camping along the Susquehanna River. So reading about life over 400 years in that area now sounds fascinating. I always liked history and learning the history of an entire area I have been to and through would be interesting. Thanks for your really excellent review of 'Chesapeake'.

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  2. I read several of Michener's books many years ago, but I had never read Chesapeake. Your excellent review has peaked my interest.

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  3. Oh, this sounds like a book that I would very much enjoy reading! I love books with accurate historical accounts, even it the storyline is fiction. To span 400 years in one book does seem like it would be rather lengthy, but your review makes me wish to read it regardless. This is a most excellent review and recommendation. Going to seek out the book for myself now!

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  4. Oh I love Michener's stories. I have read one or two and been taken on a journey in his words. I also have his biography on my list of must reads, but have not yet opened it up. I haven't read this one either, so on my list it goes. Thanks Dawn Rae.

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  5. I haven't read any of Michener's books and your review definitely makes me put this at the top of the list!

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  6. Loved your review. I know I would enjoy this book. This may be the kind of book that would work for me in Audio format. I would get lost in this story!

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