Tuesday, November 24, 2015

REVIEW--Flight of the Sparrow by Amy Belding Brown

5.0 out of 5 stars 17th-century abduction, slavery, and PTSD, November 23, 2015

(Christy K Robinson)
Verified Purchase
This review is from: Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America (Paperback)
Flight of the Sparrow
at Amazon
 I first ran across the Mary Rowlandson story when I was researching my three books on William and Mary Barrett Dyer (two were historical novels that were light on fiction and heavy on fact, and the third was nonfiction). Mary's abduction from Lancaster, Massachusetts Bay Colony took place in February 1675. She was separated from her also-captive pre-teen children, and her six-year-old died of a gunshot wound. Mary was a slave to Weetamoo, a female sachem related to "King Philip" of the 1675-76 King Philip's War. Mary was marched around New England in the depths of a Little Ice Age winter and spring with her own bullet wound and heavy heart at the loss of her children, her sister, and her home and lifestyle, before being redeemed from captivity about three months later.

The original Rowlandson book is moralistic and rather stiff, as you'd expect from the Puritan Congregationalists of the era. But in Flight of the Sparrow, author Amy Belding Brown gives much thought to the background of the story, and brings Mary Rowlandson to life. Belding Brown must needs fictionalize the story somewhat, but I know from my own research and writing experience that when you spend so much time with the subjects of your books, you enter into their thoughts. Belding Brown was able to see Mary Rowlandson's traumatic experiences and the thoughts and actions which saved her life, and then deeply affected Rowlandson's return to "civilization" and normalcy--and perhaps resulted in a loss of her faith in humanity and God.

There was an element of 21st-century feminism and abolitionism which Rowlandson probably would not have dreamed of, let alone spoken, but it makes the book approachable for most readers who are unfamiliar with 17th-century religious beliefs. In her fiction writing, Belding Brown deftly takes the reader through what must surely have been Stockholm Syndrome and PTSD. Rowlandson was dragged through the wilderness both physically and spiritually and I found the deterioration of her religious beliefs to be believable. And readers are brought close, through 21st-century fiction, to what was likely very close to the truth.

The book was beautifully written, and described the environment, customs, and lifestyles of the English settlers as they crashed against the Native American tribes in the 17th century. The contrasts of silence and sound, sophistication and savagery, love and indifference, and many other conditions we take for granted, were striking. The one negative (for me) was that Flight was written in present tense. It's a device that's done more often these days, but it's not my favorite because it bumps me too often into the present. If that's something that bothers you, don't let it stop you buying and enjoying Flight of the Sparrow.

Both Mary Rowlandson's original book (public domain, available free on Google Books and several platforms) and Belding Brown's Flight of the Sparrow are appropriate for ages teens through adult. There is some violence depicted, in the sacking of Lancaster and throughout Rowlandson's slavery experience in the wilderness, but it's probably realistic and certainly not gratuitous or salacious.

If you're a descendant of Mary Rowlandson, you should read this historical novel to better understand the mysteries of 17th-century religious belief and culture. You'll think better of Rowlandson than you would from reading the journal alone. If you're not a descendant, then read Flight of the Sparrow to learn the strength of character our early-American ancestors had to have to survive the ordeal of settling a wilderness--and building a nation.

No comments:

Post a Comment