Across the Endless River by Thad Carhart (Review #2)


endless1Reviewed by Chris Phillips

The great exploration of the wild Western frontier by Lewis and Clark is part of every person’s schooling. Their trip opened up the West to expansion. There are many legends and stories from this expedition but here is one that is unique. Carhart takes the historical facts: Toussaint Charbonneau and Sacagawea had a child. Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau was that child. He took part in the expedition on his mother’s back. Upon the expedition’s end, he was warded with Clark to further his education and spent summers with the tribes. Carhart provides those details in the first few chapters of the book, but upon Pompy’s (Jean-Baptiste’s Native name) decision to travel to Europe as the companion and interpreter for Duke Paul of Wurttemberg, his life never remained the same.

Carhart fills-in the 5 years (1823 – 1828) that Baptiste spent in Europe with all the intrigues and machinations of European royalty. Baptiste is definitely a “stranger in a strange land” and often struggles with being an oddity, and then being ignored. This is an adventure tale, but more a story of coming of age for a man split between three cultures but not fully part of any. He is denied acceptance among the Mandan because he is too “white.” He can only be accepted as a well behaved “half-breed” in the American culture of St. Louis. And then, throughout most of the book, he is almost a trophy to be brought-out and shown-off for entertainment purposes in Europe.

He finds his own way through all this. He develops intimate relationships with two women, Princess Theresa, Paul’s older cousin and with Maura Hennesy, a wine mechant’s daughter. But even then his plurality makes it difficult for him to be more than a dalliance to one and a long distance friend to the other. There are trials and tribulations throughout, but none seem to rest on Baptiste’s shoulders for long. Usually they are taken care of by others in some way. The one character flaw in Baptiste’s personality is that of watching the world go by while not knowing where he fits.

Carhart handles all the characters and develops them faithfully and fully. He takes the time to let this reader know that these are real people with real problems and real lives. He handles plot twists as they would be in real life. Baptiste’s father’s alcoholism, Clark’s high idealism and the rose-tinted glasses ideas of Europeans about America, the West and most particularly “Indians.” Throughout the book there are times when the senses are almost overwhelmed with the images that are described. At others, the frustrations and stress of always being in the background are portrayed faithfully.

The plot is well-developed while maintaining integrity to history. When fictionalized there is continuity and connection with the separate plots. The emotional interaction is true to what history states about European royalty and its power during this time. Historical depiction of the various power struggles is well-grounded, but left in the background as it would be for someone from another culture.

The production of the book is professional and consistent. This reviewer can heartily recommend this book for any and all readers. The book should help each understand the various cultures Baptiste passes through. And it is a great story to do it with.

A review copy of this book was supplied to the reviewer by the publisher.



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