Sometimes fate brings a book into your hands that just suits the time and place. Such it was when I was asked to read Dakota, Or What's a Heaven For by Brenda K. Marshall. I had just moved to South Dakota a few weeks before and was falling in love with the land. This was one opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
This is not a story about a homesteader as I first thought. I was thinking the main character would be battling the elements and staking a claim alongside her husband. What I found was a much more complicated character. I found a woman of means striving to fulfill dreams while society around her was smothering every opportunity. Even the wilds of the Dakota restricted her.
She marries a man seeking a dream and discovers that he has no dreams. She thinks it all lies with her best friend who is content without dreaming. She hopes that the new territory will give her more chances but not the ones she anticipates. Maybe a child will be the answer or will it be the noose around her neck? Maybe a new career will be it or will it set her up for failure? On and on, the young woman seeks fulfillment only to find the way blocked by someone or something. It is a story of a woman yearning for something that she really can’t define or grasp.
The author does an excellent job making the pages come alive. In describing the sunset that the Fargo residents could watch every night, Marshall says, “It was a sunset...worthy of tribute, a fat golden pool of light lapping against the horizon and sending streaks of radiance into the layers of variegated purple, pink, and indigo there.” Your find yourself holding your breath as you see the same scene before you. The whole book evokes vivid images of the scenery and the characters. Her use of the English language is remarkable. Simple words will not do. Only those that make the pages dance with life and character are used.
Using these descriptive words, the author explorers each of the characters and dives into their hearts and souls. The reader is drawn to the politician, the railroad executives, the foreigners looking for a new start, a year girl facing womanhood, a man without a dream, a woman with too many dreams. I felt like I knew each one intimately and could feel their pain. They became clear and focused. They became real.
One of the subplots is a relationship between the two best friends. Though not the main storyline or explicit, it drives the decisions of the one woman who is looking for fulfillment of her dreams. It is this love that has her looking toward the Dakota Territory. It is this love that has her developing the many relationships around her, associations with those who are high-level politicians all the way to friendships with those who are Jewish mechanics and camp cooks. If this relationship is not a topic you are comfortable with, this book might not be for you. If this relationship will not bother you, it is a well-written book that I highly recommend you buy to read.
You won’t regret reading the history of the Dakota Territory through the eyes of various social classes, genders, and ethnic backgrounds. You’ll see the greed of the rich, the desperation of the poor, and the prison of those caught in the middle. You’ll find battles fought between men and those fought between man and the land. You’ll discover the righteous and the corrupt. You’ll read of those that would choose a whole new identity to make their lives out west.
Note: This book was provided by the publisher for review.