Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Jane Kirkpatrick: History Through Historic Novels

Historic novels are a great way to learn about what life was like in the past but you always wonder what of the story is true and what is filled in by the author’s imagination. In the case of the “Change and Cherish” series by Jane Kirkpatrick I had a unique opportunity to find out.

My curiosity led me to visit the Aurora Colony Museum near Portland, Oregon this summer. There I learned that Jane Kirkpatrick doesn't just drop by a museum to read their records on the people she is writing about. She goes on to interview her character’s descendants, then digs even deeper to learn more. I found that not only were Emma’s experiences true to history but even her personality was crafted from the authors research.

The three books in the series tell the story of Emma Wagner Giesy’s life as part of a German communal religious colony. Emma is a determined women whose independent nature often puts her at odds with the autocratic rule by Dr. Kiel, the colony leader.

The first book, A Clearing in the Wild, introduces us to Emma as young woman in the Bethel, Missouri colony. It goes on to tell of her experiences as the only women in a scouting party led by her husband to find a new colony location in the Willapa Bay area of Washington. Emma was appalled when Dr. Kiel arrived and rejected the very location that he had sent them to. He blamed the scouts and looked to Oregon for a better place to settle.

The second book, A Tendering of the Storm, tells of the tragic loss of Emma's husband leaving her with three young children. In her determination to stay at the Willapa settlement and to care for her children on her own she made a fateful decision.

The final book, A Mending at the Edge, is about Emma's life in the Aurora Colony in Oregon where she moved to excape from past mistakes. There she finally makes peace with the community and finds a home.

Throughout the series I found myself identifying with Emma; feeling her determination to be independent from community restrictions, her pain when it appeared her efforts only hurt her more, and her sense of resignation and finally acceptance when she joined the colony in Aurora, Oregon. I felt as if I too had experienced Emma's journey west and struggle to survive under such difficult conditions.

Learn more about Emma and her community:
The Aurora Colony Museum in Oregon
Jane Kirkpatrick: History Through Historic Novels

(Find these books at by clicking the linked titles in this entry.)