“One Thousand White Women”

Fergus, Jim.  One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd.  New York: St. Martin’s Griffin., 1999.  Print.

Borrowed from The Cedar Falls Public Library.  

Read between September 19-September 25, 2012.

Four out of five stars.

Jim Fergus’ One Thousand White Women follows May Dodd and a motley crew of women from her incarceration in a Chicago insane asylum where she had been committed for falling in love with a man beneath her station, to the prairies of the Nebraska Territory as part of President Ulysses S. Grant’s “Brides for Indians” program.  The program, intended to assimilate Native Americans into “white culture” was (unsurprisingly) met with hostility and horror when it was proposed by a Cheyenne chief in 1875.  Grant, however, saw an opportunity and secretly recruited prisoners, patients, and other unsavory women to participate and marry Cheyenne men with the intent to becoming pregnant, thereby joining the two cultures together through matrimony and children.  What ensues is carefully recorded in the fictitious diary of May Dodd in an amusing, offbeat, and bittersweet chronicle.  Writing in a candid, descriptive and witty style,  Fergus is able to capture the triumphs and hardships of this unique group of women who are thrust into the unknown and married to men with whom they can barely communicate.  Like most Western novels, One Thousand White Women relies on strong story telling and descriptive narrative with themes of justice, redemption and survival being present throughout.  It is a tale of strength and character, not only of May Dodd but also the other women and their Cheyenne families, which ranges from sassy and sarcastic to reflective and nostalgic.  May Dodd is at the center of a strong cast of characters who must learn to adapt and evolve to drastically new lifestyles whilst being caught in the middle of a tumultuous time in history as the Cheyenne people try desperately to cling to their traditional way of life, and white Americans press westward in search of land and gold.  At times romantic, occasionally violent, One Thousand White Women will appeal to readers who connect to strong female protagonists, are fans of historical fiction, and those seeking a thought-provoking Novel of the West.

 

I absolutely loved this book, though I tend to really enjoy historical fiction.  I thought the narrator was charming and affable, and I empathized with her struggles, cheered with her victories. The ending was not what I expected, though I found it fitting (I won’t spoil it).  I recommended the book to my mom, who then bought it for my grandmother.  I would definitely re-read this book.

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