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Book Review: Across The Endless River by Thad Carhart

October 28, 2009

[tweetmeme source=”mypassionisbooks” only_single=false]Across The Endless River is a wonderful and captivating novel account of the life of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau. The book is written by Thad Carhart author of The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier which was on the bestseller list.

The marvelous detail and picturesque way in which Carhart brings the known historical details of life during this time frame, together with his detailed and beautifully portrayed thoughts of what could so easily have been the details of Baptiste’s life at that time in history is remarkable.

Across The Endless River gives insight into Jean-Baptiste’s thoughts about so many things, including viewing those in Europe who were not privy to the rank, wealth, extravagances and royalty of the elite lifestyle of the aristocracy — the life that the majority of people dealt with in the ever crowding Europe at that time.

Carhart also showed great care and at times intricate details of frontier life and Native American life in the wilds of North America, the New World — the freedom in living as well as the dangers and hardships.

Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau is the son of Sacagawea of the Shoshon tribe and the Mandan tribe on the Missouri, and Toussaint Charbonneau, a French fur trader and guide originally from Montreal. Traced is Jean-Baptiste’s journey through his youth and young adulthood, told in such a way that I could hardly put the book down until I finished it.

Sacagawea and Jean-Baptiste CharbonneauJean-Baptiste’s parents traveled with Lewis and Clark on their historic discovery expedition to the Pacific and back — Baptiste was born on that journey.

As a side note, Captain William Clark gave him the nickname Pomp or Pompy and named Pompys Pillar National Monument after Baptiste. I found out recently that Baptiste as a baby is the only child ever depicted on a United States coin to date – the Sacagawea dollar depicts his mother Sacagawea with Baptiste in his cradle board.

Baptiste was sent to St. Louis to be with Captain Clark to get his ‘white man’ education. Later in his teen years, he acted as guide to natural scientist Duke Paul Wilhelm of Württemberg. Paul was very impressed with Jean-Baptiste’s knowledge and understanding of the natural world in North America, the ways of the Native American tribes, and his quick wit and knowledge of various subjects and languages. Paul asks Baptiste to join him on his trip back to Europe and help him with the cataloging of all the New World treasures he had collected during his journey in America for his new book and exhibition of his treasures back in Europe. As a scientist, Paul also considered Baptiste’s trip to Europe as a bit of an experiment to see how he would fare.

Jean-Baptiste spends five years traveling with Paul in Europe learning about the various cultures, languages, music, life at court, and so much more while he is in Europe. Because he is a guest of Duke Paul Wilhelm of Württemberg, he is admitted to noble homes, palaces, and more. He is able to attend royal banquets, balls and dinners, attend performances, and meet many interesting people, including some very unique and charming women in Europe.

Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau's graveYou almost feel as though this is a full and actual historical account of Jean-Baptiste’s life, and much of it may well have happened as Carhart paints it for us, but there is little that is actually detailed in writing, or known about, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau’s life.

As someone who loves history, and particularly the details of life in other times and places, I thoroughly loved Across The Endless River. Although, I really don’t think you need to be a history buff to enjoy this novel as Carhart’s love of, and romance with, the time, the people and the history are so vital — it is so visually and beautifully written.

This review article about this wonderful book was first published on here and can also be found under my writers page here.

I love historical fiction, especially historical fiction that is based on real characters, and particularly when it is carried out so lovingly and beautifully. Carhart took the ‘wireframe’ of history known about Baptiste, and wove a wonderful story. I found myself wondering about Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau for the first time because of this book. Of course, due to the lack of much real historical detail one could never truly see through his eyes – so to speak – but Thad Carhart brings him and his life during that period in history to life in a very unique and extraordinary way.


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