Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Horseman's Graves by Jacqueline Baker

They had always been haunted, those hills. The place where the dead walk. But by the time Leo Krauss arrived with his parents and gape-eyed siblings in 1909 (travelling from the stinking though venerable port of Odessa by polluted steamer to Montreal and then west by train and west by cart and west on mules and, finally, when the mules lay wasted in the dust, west on foot across a land searing under the heat of a prairie sun), the ghosts that had once walked the hills had vanished, or were, at least, imperceptible to those already burdened by the past of another country. Now, it was life the newcomers travelled toward, not death. A big clean dome of pure sky. Infinite, unfettered space. A new start. Death was behind them; here, a life could be resurrected.

Title: The Horseman's Daughter
Author: Jacqueline Baker
ISBN: 9780002008365
Publisher: Harpercollins/2007
Pages: 432

The first paragraph sets the pace of this novel set in Saskatchewan-Alberta border, where German immigrants came in the late 1800s setting up farming communities.

The Schoff family and the Krauss family are two such families who are neighbours. Stolanus and Helen Schoff are a hard-working family who live with their son, who has scars due to wagon accident and a farm hand, Lathias, who life is somehow connected with the boy. Next door to them lives Leo Krauss, who is taken to be lazy and foul and is considered the town pariah living along with his step-daughter Elisabeth, a beautiful girl, somewhat wild and reclusive. A friendship develops between Elizabeth, the Shoff boy (who doesn't seem to have a name) and the farm hand, Lathias . All three, in some way or the other are misfits and thus are drawn together. Their unusual friendship affects the community in such a way that it has a profound effect on all.

One day, Elizabeth falls into the icy river and is taken for dead. The Schoff boy is the only one who winessed it. And most believe that he might have pushed her in. From there the story takes a turn. People's lives are affected by the land, community, myths, beliefs and so much more.

Is Leo as bad as he made out to be? Is Elizabeth the sweet girl everyone thinks she is? How is Lathias connected to the schoff family? Why does the land become so important for the people?

Baker wrote one heartbreakingly beautiful story. The prose is lyrical and is sheer poetry at places. This is one enchanting book. The characters might be complex but we get involved in them. A must read read for those who are attached to the land and all it brings. And for those who want to know about land's effect on lives. Beautiful descriptions of land, nature and so much more.

Also reviewed by:

Teddy Rose

And also thanks to Teddy Rose for sending this book to me.


Nikki in Niagara said...

I think this is one of the most wonderful books I've ever read! So glad to hear you enjoyed it, too.

Teddy Rose said...

Beautiful review! I'm so glad that you enjoyed it! It sounds like it was worth the slow postal service wait.