Hernando DeSoto and his band of conquistadors were the first to cross the Mississippi and conquer the ancient people of Arkansas. Three 16th century journals documented their travels and battles.
A hundred years have passed and the stories revolving around these bloody encounters have all but vanished - but one old woman, one of the last surviving storytellers able to relate eyewitness stories of the bloodshed, defies native custom to tell youngsters around the campfire what really happened - and her voice can't be halted.
The truth takes facts about early Native American life and turns them upside down, telling of the breech of a forbidden practice and weaving together the lives of an orphan who grows up with oral accounts of some of the last witnesses of genocide of her times, a hermit who raises her, and a tribe that has maintained a vested interest in ignoring the truth for the sake of their survival.
In some ways Storykeeper is the quintessential survivor's account and in other ways it's much more: fiction interspersed with the fluidity of time that sometimes keeps readers guessing but more often keeps them on their toes. It's a compelling saga of one child's ability to survive all odds only to grow into an adult world where her stories and experiences are shunned, and it offers a rare glimpse into early Native cultures and what they faced and perceived when the Europeans arrived.
Storykeeper is a complex read, sometimes challenging: narrators and perspectives change, Manaha's own name changes, and even in her childhood, the events surrounding the 'Son of the Sun' and ‘their’ arrival take place forty-nine years earlier. With both perspective and time in flux, readers are carried along on a historical and cultural journey that, while compelling, requires attention to detail: not for those seeking light entertainment, it's a saga that demands - and deserves - careful reading and contemplation.
These cautions aside, readers who relish detailed historical fiction, stories of early Native American tradition and experience, and an unusual focus packed with historical details not typically explored in fictional format will find Storykeeper a tale of not just one woman's observations, but how she carries and imparts the memories of generations in a form that eschews paper in favor of oral accounts steeped in immediacy and vivid detail.
A saga of revenge, bribery, political bargaining, death and disease, it’s a novel that's surprisingly succinct for its subject, rich in its detail, and highly recommended for historical fiction readers who want so much more than a casual pursuit.