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Sunday, November 18, 2018

FOLLOW the RIVER (audiobook) by James Alexander Thom

Published by Tantor Audio in 2010.
Book originally published in 1981 by Ballantine Books.
Read by David Drummond.
Duration: 16 hours, 10 minutes.

Photo by DWD
As the American frontier pushed ever-Westward during the Colonial Era, there were multiple major conflicts between the new White settlers and the various Indian groups. The last, and the biggest, was the war that Americans know as the French and Indian War (1754-1763). It was truly a global war involving not only France and England, but also a variety of countries around the world such as Prussia, Austria, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Russia and the Mughal Empire in India.

The war began as a power struggle between French and English colonists along with their Native American allies. Technically, a young Virginia militia leader named George Washington started the war when he tried to remove French Canadians who were building a trading post in what is now western Pennsylvania. The entire frontier was soon at war and little settlements on the extreme frontier, like Drapers Meadows, Virginia, were exposed - even if they had only the faintest idea there was a war going on.

In 1755, a group of Shawnee warriors attacked Drapers Meadows, a settlement of just a few families and killed or kidnapped about half of the inhabitants and took them to a large Shawnee town near the Ohio River in what is now northeastern Kentucky. One of the victims was Mary Draper Ingles (pronounced Ingalls) and this novel is the fictionalized story of her capture (along with her children), her life among the Shawnee and her escape with a fellow female captive who spoke mostly German. Mary had watched as she was taken to the Shawnee village and she realized that all she had to do was simply follow the river system back to her home. If only it were that simple. It turned into a 42 day walk back to an English frontier cabin across some of the roughest terrain in the Appalachians. They left in mid-October and arrived on December 1, 1755.

Their escape covered more than 500 miles and crossed an estimated 145 rivers or creeks, with little or no food. Oftentimes, they had to get soaked in water, climb cliffs or rockfalls and starved as they walked and the temperatures dropped. This terrain is difficult nowadays with modern equipment. Their accomplishment is astonishing when you consider their physical condition and almost complete lack of tools, equipment, nutrition and warm clothing. This book was thoroughly researched by the author who walked as much as their route as he possibly could. You can tell - the landscape is as much a character in the book as any single character.

This is an amazing book. It is not a happy book - how can it be when it is full of suffering, violence, death and tragedy? But, James Alexander Thom told the story so well that I felt like I was along for the whole tragic trip. It is sobering and compelling. It is all the more tragic when you consider that she left her children behind with the Shawnee because there was no way that they could survive this extremely difficult trek.

The audiobook was read by David Drummond. He does an excellent job with the accents throughout the book (the area was quite international considering how hard it was to get there) and the rest of the book overall. I do think it was a bit odd to chose a man to read the book considering that most of the dialogue of the book is spoken by women. A great deal of the book also deals with the internal thoughts of Mary.

This was a re-read for me, although it had been 26 years between readings. I remembered it as an excellent book and I am pleased to say that I still think it is excellent.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Follow the River by James Alexander Thom

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