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“Captivating.” —New York Times
“Carhart writes with a sensuousness enhanced by patience and grounded by the humble acquisition of new insight into music, his childhood, and his relationship to the city of Paris.” —The New Yorker
1. The first part of Across the Endless River is called “Two Paths.” What do you think this initially refers to and how does this designation come to gain significance throughout the narrative?
2. When Baptiste and Duke Paul first arrive in Paris, Baptiste sees things he had never before imagined. What strikes him as impressive or interesting? As his travels continue, does Baptiste’s wonder about these new experiences remain?
3. Baptiste first meets Maura at a ball in Paris. How is she different from other young women of her time? What choices does she face, both professionally and personally? How do these compare to the choices Baptiste confronts?
4. After his mother’s death, Baptiste is left without a true paternal presence– “Everyone claimed to be his father: Charbonneau, Clark, Chouteau, Limping Bear, President Jefferson, Jesus himself.” How does this lack of a traditional father figure shape Baptiste?
5. In Baptiste’s travels, we witness both a buffalo hunt with the Pawnee tribe along the Missouri River basin as well as a stag hunt in a forest in France. What differences strike you about the two ways of hunting animals in the 1820s? What does this tell us about the choices facing those living in such different worlds?
6. Baptiste gradually feels that he lives “in between” two different worlds–without being wholly part of either. Why does he feel this way? Are there present-day situations that give rise to this sense of being on the edge of two languages, cultures, and sets of customs?
7. In Paris, Baptiste, Duke Paul, and Professor Picard visit Georges Cuvier at the Muséum D’Histoire naturelle. While looking at the collection of animal skeletons there, Baptiste is entranced by the bones of a whale. Why is this skeleton so impressive to him? What resonance does it have with his past?
8. How does Baptiste come to think of the frontier during his time in Europe? What particular features– geographic or cultural–does he most miss?
9. In discussing the importance of marriage among European aristocrats, Theresa tells Baptiste, “Compromising with power to protect their interests is something women do every day of their lives. Never forget that, Baptiste.” Where do we see examples of this in the lives of the women in the book?
10. In a letter to Maura, Baptiste refers to something her father had said: “For those of us who live on the edges of different worlds, history has wounded us and love must save us.” How would you interpret this in terms of the book’s principal characters?
11. Explain the significance of letter/journal writing in the book. It is through journal writing that we really get a taste of Duke Paul’s perspective. What do we learn about Baptiste through Duke Paul’s writings? What do we discover about Baptiste’s feelings about being abroad through his letters to Captain Clark? How do we see Maura and Baptiste’s relationship grow through their written correspondence?
12. How does Baptiste’s early bond with his mother prepare him for his future romantic relationships? What does Theresa offer Baptiste that Maura does not and vice versa?
13. What in Maura’s past prepares her for life in America? Is her notion of becoming a wine merchant on the frontier realistic? Would her choice be yours?
14. Baptiste carries a small carved stone bird in his pocket. What is the significance of this piece to him? What does it represent?
Posted November 24, 2009
Across the Great River by Thad Carhart ISBN 978-0-385-52977-8 Published by Doubleday, September 2, 2009. (www.doubleday.com) ($26.95 USD SRP/Amazon $17.79 USD) Reviewer received book from FSB Associates, Basking Ridge, NJ 07920
Review by Chris Phillips
The great exploration of the wild Western frontier by Lewis and Clark is part of every person's schooling. Their trip opened up the West to expansion. There are many legends and stories from this expedition but here is one that is unique. Carhart takes the historical facts: Toussaint Charbonneau and Sacagawea had a child. Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau was that child. He took part in the expedition on his mother's back. Upon the expedition's end, he was warded with Clark to further his education and spent summers with the tribes. Carhart provides those details in the first few chapters of the book, but upon Pompy's (Jean-Baptiste's Native name) decision to travel to Europe as the companion and interpreter for Duke Paul of Wurttemberg, his life never remained the same.
Carhart fills-in the 5 years (1823 - 1828) that Baptiste spent in Europe with all the intrigues and machinations of European royalty. Baptiste is definitely a "stranger in a strange land" and often struggles with being an oddity, and then being ignored. This is an adventure tale, but more a story of coming of age for a man split between three cultures but not fully part of any. He is denied acceptance among the Mandan because he is too "white." He can only be accepted as a well behaved "half-breed" in the American culture of St. Louis. And then, throughout most of the book, he is almost a trophy to be brought-out and shown-off for entertainment purposes in Europe.
He finds his own way through all this. He develops intimate relationships with two women, Princess Theresa, Paul's older cousin and with Maura Hennesy, a wine mechant's daughter. But even then his plurality makes it difficult for him to be more than a dalliance to one and a long distance friend to the other. There are trials and tribulations throughout, but none seem to rest on Baptiste's shoulders for long. Usually they are taken care of by others in some way. The one character flaw in Baptiste's personality is that of watching the world go by while not knowing where he fits.
Carhart handles all the characters and develops them faithfully and fully. He takes the time to let this reader know that these are real people with real problems and real lives. He handles plot twists as they would be in real life. Baptiste's father's alcoholism, Clark's high idealism and the rose-tinted glasses ideas of Europeans about America, the West and most particularly "Indians." Throughout the book there are times when the senses are almost overwhelmed with the images that are described. At others, the frustrations and stress of always being in the background are portrayed faithfully.
The plot is well-developed while maintaining integrity to history. When fictionalized there is continuity and connection with the separate plots. The emotional interaction is true to what history states about European royalty and its power during this time. Historical depiction of the various power struggles is well-grounded, but left in the background as it would be for someone from another culture.
The production of the book is professional and consistent. This reviewer can heartily recommend this book for any and all readers.
Posted November 22, 2009
In Indian culture, the ocean was called "the endless river" as no one ever sailed across it. Thad Carhart explores the life of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, who was the baby born to Sacagawea on the explorations of Lewis and Clark, where she served as a translator. Because of this connection with Americans, Jean-Baptiste grew up with connections both to his Indian heritage, the French trapping culture of his father, and the American/English culture. Sacagawea died when Baptiste was eight, and he lived after that with Captain Clark, who treated him as a ward and provided him with an education. There, he met and grew to know a German nobleman, Duke Paul of Wurttemberg. Paul is in America to satisfy his longing to make a name for himself as a natural history scientist. Baptiste is invaluable to his efforts, serving as a guide and helping him capture various wild animals.
When Paul returns to Europe, he convinces Jean-Baptiste to go with him. What is meant as a short journey ends in Jean-Baptiste staying as Paul's guest for five years. He learns about European royal culture and it's strict structure for every part of life. During these years, Baptiste learns about royal hunting, familial expectations, music, art and various scientific studies. He also forms relationships with two women. One is a young widow, Theresa, who is Paul's cousin and who starts a friendship with Baptiste that turns into an affair. He also forms a relationship with the daughter of a wine-merchant to European nobility. Maura is half French and half Irish, and understands better than anyone else the way that Jean-Baptiste feels balanced between two opposing worlds.
Thad Carhart has done extensive research into this man's life, and it is evident in his writing. One of the strongest examples is the contrast in hunting. The reader is taken along on an Indian hunt for buffalo, and this writing is exciting and compelling. When Baptiste goes to Europe, this hunting, which is done for survival, is contrasted with the very formalised hunt performed by the noblemen, where one animal is selected, his moments traced, and he is harried to exhustion and then executed. Another example is Carhart's writing of the ceremony that young Indian men underwent to become braves. It is a chilling ceremony, and the reader is transported into the smokey, loud tent in which the ceremony occurs. The contrast in European culture is the stylized dance that Baptiste attends, where all moves are structured and there is a definate pattern to every stage of the evening. This book is recommended for lovers of historical fiction. I enjoyed getting to know Jean-Baptiste, and I think others will also.
Posted November 8, 2009
This was an excellent, well-written work of historical fiction and I was very excited to read anything that takes place in Paris. This is not a part of history that I am familiar with, so besides enjoying a wonderful novel, I also learned a little, too!
For me, the story really took off once Jean-Baptiste got to Europe as I don't have much interest in American history. But I enjoyed reading of Baptiste struggle between two very different worlds, Europe and early America. Baptiste is also torn between two woman. I really felt connected to Carhart's Baptiste and the novel flowed smoothly and was a fairly quick read once I got into it. It did take about 60-70 pages to get there, but I think that background was important to understanding Baptiste. I also enjoyed the descriptions of Europe and Paris especially. This was a really great read.
my rating 4/5
Posted October 25, 2009
This is the story of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacajawea. Baptiste was born 1805 during the time his parents were with the Lewis & Clarke expedition. When he is 18 yrs. old he goes to Europe and helps Duke Paul catalogue the objects he acquired on his travels. He meets and falls in love with two woman, Paul's cousin Theresa, and Maura Hennesy. The story is written so that you feel as if you are there. It's got both American and European history and I loved learning from this book. My favorite character was Baptiste. I was intrigued by him and his place in history. There is so much more to this book, but I feel that the more I reveal, the more I will take away from your experience if you decide to read it yourself. It is an adventure you won't soon forget.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 8, 2009
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Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau had a baby boy names Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau. His mixed heritage makes him feel like an outcast. When he turns eighteen, he befriends Duke Paul of Wurttemberg and together they travel around Europe. Jean Baptiste and Paul's cousin, Princess Theresa, begin a hot and steamy affair. When Theresa gives Baptiste an ultimatum, he's unsure of what to do. He travels to Paris and meets a woman named Maura. Now he's torn between two worlds and two women. What will he decide?
I felt like I traveled back in time and watched this novel come to life. This is a touching story of a man who has the world at his fingertips. He is forced to make important decisions that will alter his life forever.
Posted September 23, 2009
Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau was born during the Lewis and Clarke expedition in 1805; his mom was Sacagawea while his father Charbonneau was a French trapper turned translator. As an infant he made it to the Pacific; as a boy he went to school in St. Louis and at his mom's village. He learns several languages growing up in his divided lineage.
European naturalist Duke Paul Wilhelm of Wurttemberg is in the United States analyzing and classifying North American flora and fauna. Baptiste assists him and accompanies him back to Paris where he becomes the toast of the nobles though not one of them; only the Duke's cousin Princess Theresa understands his duality but she has a pragmatic outlook that excludes the mixed breed. Baptiste meets and falls in love with Irish expatriate Maura Hennesy. However, in his early twenties after five years on the continent he decides to go home with his Maura at his side.
This is an entertaining biographical fiction of the youngest member of the Lewis and Clarke expedition. Baptiste is a fascinating character whose bi-racial background makes him in at the highest levels of European aristocratic society and yet never really in. Fans will feel they are transported to the first half of the nineteenth century in Europe and Americas as the imagery is incredible vivid. Although more a series of anecdotal occurrences that bring to life time and place than a cohesive novel, ACROSS THE ENDLESS RIVER is a fascinating historical fiction that takes a fresh timely look at contrasting two worlds through a lead character who has a foot in both and in neither.