Into the Wilderness (Wilderness Series #1)

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Weaving a tapestry of fact and fiction, Sara Donati's epic novel sweeps us into another time and place...and into the heart of a forbidden affair between an unconventional Englishwoman and an American frontiersman.

It is December of 1792. Elizabeth Middleton leaves her comfortable English estate to join her family in a remote New York mountain village. It is a place unlike any she has ever experienced.  And she meets a man unlike any she has ever encountered--a white ...

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Weaving a tapestry of fact and fiction, Sara Donati's epic novel sweeps us into another time and place...and into the heart of a forbidden affair between an unconventional Englishwoman and an American frontiersman.

It is December of 1792. Elizabeth Middleton leaves her comfortable English estate to join her family in a remote New York mountain village. It is a place unlike any she has ever experienced.  And she meets a man unlike any she has ever encountered--a white man dressed like a Native American, Nathaniel Bonner, known to the Mohawk people as Between-Two-Lives. Determined to provide schooling for all the children of the village, she soon finds herself locked in conflict with the local slave owners as well as her own family.

Interweaving the fate of the Mohawk Nation with the destiny of two lovers, Sara Donati's compelling novel creates a complex, profound, passionate portrait of an emerging America.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"One of those rare stories that let you breathe the air of another time, and leave your footprints on the snow of a wild, strange place."—Diana Gabaldon

"A powerful adventure story."—People

"Each time you open a book, you hope to discover a story that will make your spirit of adventure and romance sing. This book delivers on that promise."—Amanda Quick

"Epic in scope, emotionally intense."—BookPage

"A beautiful tale of both romance and survival...Here is the beauty as well as the savagery of the wilderness and, at the core of it all, the compelling story of the love of a man and a woman, both for the untamed land and for one another."—llan W. Eckert

"The romance of the year when it comes to transcending genre boundaries and appealing to readers who love lush historical epics or thrilling backwoods adventures."—Booklist

Laura Jamison
At first. . .[Wilderness] appears to be derivative and ridden with cliches. . . .If you can hang on. . .the author builds a powerful adventure story, animating everyone. . .in a gorgeous, vividly described American landscape. —People
Library Journal
Much touted by its publicist, this first novel features Englishwoman Elizabeth Middleton, who hardly expects to fall for an American frontiersman when she travels to the New World.
Laura Jamison
At first. . .[Wilderness] appears to be derivative and ridden with cliches. . . .If you can hang on. . .the author builds a powerful adventure story, animating everyone. . .in a gorgeous, vividly described American landscape. -- People
September 1998

It is very rare that debut novels reveal much mastery of craft, character, and story. But in rare instances, they do. Margaret Mitchell, with Gone with the Wind, created a masterpiece, which was unfortunately her only novel. Jean Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear was another first novel that soared. Well, let me introduce you to one of the best new storytellers to come around since Diana Gabaldon.

Sara Donati is truly amazing.

She has with this, her first published novel, created a lush canvas of richly drawn characters and fascinating stories all in one great fictional world. I am so used to reading hyperbole about new fiction that I'm immune to most of it at this point. So I was pleasantly shocked as I read Into the Wilderness, turning page after page, trying to find a place where I could put it down, and found that I could not stop reading. Do not pass this book up. Do not let it get by you. Sara Donati is the real thing, and Into the Wilderness will no doubt become a popular classic.

In her acknowledgments, Donati thanks, among others, J. F. Cooper. The "J. F." stands for James Fenimore, and Donati is gracious to thank him. Into the Wilderness owes a delicious debt to the Leatherstocking tales of James Fenimore Cooper, and even those who haven't read him are sure to know the hit movie of a few years' back, "The Last of the Mohicans," based on his novel of the same name. There are echoes of this story within Into the Wilderness, but they serve more as reference points than anything else. Donati has created a wholly original tale, using the background of 18th-century North America and the mingling of Mohawk and Six Nations culture with the growing pioneer culture of the post-Revolutionary War.

I cannot recommend this book to you highly enough. There are a lot of wonderfully romantic novels out there, but this one goes beyond most. It is a startling story, one that moves smoothly and manages to create a world for the reader to fall in love with and take to the heart. But I'm sure you want to hear more about it, so here goes:

Elizabeth Middleton never considered herself an outsider until she left her secure existence in England for the wilds of America. It's the winter of 1792, and she did not know real cold until she arrived in the forests of upstate New York, where her father owns an immense property called Paradise.

She has come to teach all the children of the area, but upon her arrival she finds several roadblocks to this goal, not the least of which is that her father has not really prepared the way. Instead he has been trying to arrange a sensible marriage between Elizabeth and Richard Todd, a well-to-do doctor. Elizabeth learns why: Her brother Julian not only lost their dead mother's inheritance to Todd in gambling but even cut into his father's money with his debts. Now their father is cash-poor. A good marriage for his daughter would not only make the old man happy but also ensure that a wiser man than Julian would be at the helm of the vast estate their father has spent his life building.

Elizabeth is horrified at her father's scheming, even while she understands the dilemma. She's ready to bolt back to England. But the sparks fly when Elizabeth meets Nathaniel Bonner, the white son of Hawkeye, who in turn is the son of Chingachgook. Those familiar with James Fenimore Cooper's stories will recognize a bit of this lineage. Nathaniel is white in skin only. He is wholly Native American. He and his family, which includes a young daughter by a wife who died in childbirth, survive by the good graces of Elizabeth's father. But they seek to somehow purchase the mountain they occupy from him in order to allow the area to maintain some kind of permanent dignity.

Elizabeth is the only white person in the area to appreciate the humanity of the local Indians. The white families all around her fear them, and have created myths about them. Someone has even gone so far as to steal from Nathaniel and his relatives so that they have been destitute during the long winters. As her respect and admiration for Nathaniel Bonner grow, so does their love for each other. But within the very community in which Elizabeth lives, something far greater threatens their future happiness.

No synopsis of this story will do it justice. It is all too rare that a first novel leaps into the imagination as quickly as does Into the Wilderness. The author's ability to create both romantic sparks and historical depth around a fascinating epic story is masterful, to say the least. Miss this at your own risk.

--Jessi Rose Lucas

Jessi Rose Lucas's first romance novel, The Swan Prince, is forthcoming. She lives on the New England coast and is currently working on her second novel, The Tarnished Knight, a medieval romance about Lancelot and Guinevere.

Kirkus Reviews
Elizabeth Middleton is a 29-year-old spinster who leaves England in 1792 with her brother Julian to join their father, a judge with significant land holdings in upper New York State. She plans to establish a school where she can teach the children in the village of Paradise, but has not counted on the sexy, diverting presence of Nathaniel Bonner, a white man raised as a member of the Mohawk tribe. The attraction is immediate and mutual, and the two quickly become involved in a steamy affair. Elizabeth must take great pains to keep their romance hidden from the narrow-minded villagers and from her father, who wants her to marry the local doctor, Richard Todd (Todd's ample funds could help pay off the judge's many debts).

When she defies her father and elopes with Nathaniel, her family and the village are horrified. The lovers disappear into the woods, where Todd tracks them ruthlessly. When Nathaniel is wounded by an accidental gunshot, Elizabeth travels solo for days to seek aid for her now-husband. Along the way, she's captured and nearly killed by the evil Jack Lingo, who is pursuing long-lost Tory gold that he believes Nathaniel has hidden away. When she and Nathaniel finally return to Paradise, it's only to face the hamlet's ingrained bigotry. Exemplary historical fiction, boasting a heroine with a real and tangible presence.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553578522
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/28/1999
  • Series: Wilderness Series , #1
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 912
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 6.88 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Sara Donati is the pen name of Rosina Lippi. She lives with her husband, daughter, and various pets in an area between the Cascade Mountains and the Puget Sound.
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Read an Excerpt

"I have a question for you."

"Yes, Mr. Bonner?" She did not raise her head.

"Will you please say my name?" he said with an intensity which caused gooseflesh to rise on her arms.

She hesitated. "Nathaniel."

"Look at me and say my name."

Elizabeth looked up slowly.

Nathaniel saw in her face an overwhelming confusion. He saw that she had never stood like this with a man, that she had never imagined doing so, and that she was flustered and even a bit frightened, but not unhappy to be here with him.

"What did you want to ask me?"

"How old are you?"

Elizabeth blinked. "Twenty-nine."

"You've never been kissed, have you?" The white cloud of his breath reached out to touch her face. His hands jerked at his sides but he kept them where they were. Now she would tell him to mind his own business, and he could put this woman out of his head.

"Why?" said Elizabeth, raising her eyes to his with a critical but composed look. "Do you intend to kiss me?"

Nathaniel pulled up abruptly and laughed. "The thought crossed my mind."

Her eyes narrowed.

"Why do you want to kiss me?"

"Well," Nathaniel said, inclining his head. "You seem set on going back to England, and the Mahicans say that you should never return from a journey the same person."

"How very thoughtful of you," she said dryly. "How benevolent. But please, do not discommode yourself, on my account." She began to turn away, but Nathaniel caught her by the upper arm.

"Now I, for one, hope you don't rush off," he said. "But I want to kiss you, either way."

"Do you?" she said tersely. "Perhaps I don't want to kiss you."

Elizabeth was afraid to look at Nathaniel directly, for how could he not see the doubt on her face, and the curiosity? And what would that mean, to let him know what she really thought, how confusing this all was to her? To tell a man what she was truly thinking--this was a thought more frightening than any kiss could be.

"I didn't mean to get you mad," Nathaniel said softly.

"What did you mean to do, then? Have some fun at my expense, but not so much that I would actually notice that you were making a fool of me?"

"No," he said, and Elizabeth was relieved to see all trace of teasing leave his face. "I'd like to see the man who could make a fool of you. I meant to kiss you, because I wanted to. But if you don't like the idea--"

She pulled away from him, her face blazing white. "I never said that. You don't know what I want." Then, finally, she blushed, all her frustration and anger pouring out in pools of color which stained her cheeks bluish-gray in the faint light of the winter moon.

"So," Nathaniel said, a hint of his smile returning. "You do want to kiss me."

"I want you to stop talking the matter to death," Elizabeth said irritably. "If you hadn't noticed, you are embarrassing me. Perhaps you don't know much about England--I don't know why you should, after all--but let me tell you that there's a reason I am twenty-nine years of age and unkissed, and that is, very simply, that well-bred ladies of good family don't let men kiss them. Even if they want to be kissed, and women do want to be kissed on occasion, you realize, although we aren't supposed to admit that. To be perfectly honest with you"--she drew a shaky breath--"I can't claim that anyone has ever shown an interest in me at home--at least, not enough interest that this particular issue ever raised its head. Now." She looked up at him with her mouth firmly set. Her voice had lowered to a hoarse whisper, but still she looked about the little glen nervously, as if someone might overhear this strange and unseemly conversation. "You'll forgive me if I question why you would be thinking of kissing me."

"It's a wonder," Nathaniel said. "How purely stupid Englishmen can be. Scairt off from a pretty face--don't you scowl that way, maybe nobody ever thought to tell you before, but you are pretty--because there's a sharp mind and a quick tongue to go along with it. Well, I'm made of tougher stuff."

"Why--" Elizabeth began, sputtering.

"Christ, Boots, will you stop talking," said Nathaniel, lowering his mouth to hers; she stepped neatly away.

"I think not," she said. "Not tonight."

Nathaniel laughed out loud. "Tomorrow night? The night after?"

"Oh, no," Elizabeth said, trying halfheartedly to turn away. "I cannot--pardon me, I must get back."

"Back to England?" he asked, one hand moving down until he clasped a mittened hand. "Or just back to your father?"

Nathaniel saw Elizabeth jerk in surprise. She looked up at him sharply, her eyes sparkling. At first he thought she was angry again, then he saw that it was more complicated than that: she was furious, but not at him. Not at this. This almost-kiss, the idea of it, had released something in her.

"It isn't right that my father misrepresented things to me, that he brought me here under false pretenses, that he made plans for me that I want no part of."

"You don't want Richard Todd," Nathaniel prompted.

"No," Elizabeth said fiercely, and her eyes traveled down to focus on his mouth. "I don't want Richard Todd. I want my school."

"I will build you a school."

"I want to know why you're so angry at my father, what he's done to you."

"I'll tell you that if you really want to know," he said. "But someplace warmer."

"I don't want to get married."

He raised an eyebrow. "Then I won't marry you."

Her eyes kept darting over his face, between his mouth and his eyes, and back to his mouth, the curve of his lip. He saw this, and he knew she was thinking about kissing him. Nathaniel knew that this was a conflict for her, one not easily reconciled: she did not want marriage, and in her world--in this world--there could not be one without the other. This struggle was clear on her face, and as he expected, training and propriety won out: she was not quite bold enough to ask for the kisses she wanted. This disappointed him but he was also relieved. He didn't know how long he could keep his own wants firmly in hand. And this was not a woman who could be rushed.

"I want . . . I want . . ." She paused and looked down.

"Do you always get everything you want?" Nathaniel asked.

"No," she said. "But I intend to start."

Elizabeth let Nathaniel turn her back toward the house. Her hands and feet were icy, her cheeks chafed red with the cold, but she was strangely elated, her head rushing with possibilities. She felt that she could face her father now and that she must, she would, have her way. She had no intention of mentioning Nathaniel to him, of what had passed between them, although she recognized, she knew, that this was not over. She knew that it had just begun, and that it would take her places she could not yet imagine. It frightened her, how far she had come in just a few days, but it was also deeply exciting.

A strange thought came to Elizabeth: if her father would not give her what she wanted, Nathaniel might help her take it. He was a man such as she had never known before, and she wondered if he could be a part of her life and not an obstruction in it. She cast a wondering and speculative sideways glance at him, and shivered.

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Table of Contents

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Capturing the imagination of readers worldwide, the novels of Sara Donati bring to life compelling chapters in history, woven with tales of courage and passionate devotion. Into the Wilderness takes us to late eighteenth-century America, where Elizabeth Middleton arrives from England to fulfill her dream of creating a schoolhouse, serving all the children of a remote New York mountain village, regardless of sex or skin color. But her father has other plans for her. He has a scheme to give Elizabeth substantial property—if she agrees to marry Richard Todd, a man to whom he owes substantial debts. Elizabeth has always treasured her independence, valuing her freedom and integrity above all else. The only man who seems to speak the truth to her is Nathaniel Bonner, a fiery outsider known to the Mohawk people as Between-Two-Lives. Soon Elizabeth realizes that Nathaniel is the only match for her. A saga of adventurous new beginnings, Into the Wilderness is a breathtaking journey through the heart and soul of one couple’s epic fate—and the destiny of a young nation.

The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Sara Donati’s Into the Wilderness. We hope they will enrich your experience of this mesmerizing novel.

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1. What gives Elizabeth the courage to fight for the vindication of women? How does her vision of the New World compare to that of most early American immigrants?

2. How is Nathaniel affected by his past? When he recalls his previous wife’s desire to be white and his desire to be red, what cultural ideals is he describing?

3. Discuss the Native American notion of land as a spiritual homeland, not a commodity that can be bought and sold with money. How does this compare to the way Judge Middleton and Richard think of land? Does Judge Middleton think of Elizabeth as property too, or is he simply looking out for her best interests in a time when single women faced significant challenges?

4. How did the colonists featured in Into the Wilderness justify their personal quest for freedom while advocating slavery? How did Elizabeth’s father reconcile his upbringing with the beliefs of his fellow citizens?

5. Why was Elizabeth hesitant to begin a relationship? Would you have been tempted to marry Richard? How would you have fared in a marriage that deprived you of property rights?

6. What common ground do Richard and Nathaniel share? What accounts for their very different approaches to life, despite their similar history?

7. What does Julian’s relationship with Kitty say about him? What accounts for their attraction to each other? How does Kitty’s pregnancy change their lives, and the lives of those around them?

8. How is Hannah affected by having Elizabeth in her life? What does Elizabeth teach her about feeling valued?

9. How is Elizabeth’s life shaped by the death of her mother? How does the memory ofher mother affect her idea of womanhood? Does Julian react differently to that aspect of their family history?

10. Elizabeth and Nathaniel are assisted by many enlightened friends, such as the Schuylers. Why do some members of their community accept unconventional people, while others reject them? Even today, in the modern world, what are the roots of these two mindsets?

11. Discuss Elizabeth’s relationship with Julian. Are their differences due to nature, or the way they were raised (nurture)? What does it take for Julian to redeem himself in the end? Or does he?

12. What power and limitations do Curiosity and Galileo possess as freed slaves? How do they influence the Middleton family? For whom is the settlement of Paradise a paradise?

13. How does the arrival of Aunt Merriweather change the way Elizabeth’s family interacts? What is Aunt Merriweather able to see in her niece that others overlook?

14. What is the impact of the additional revelations about Nathaniel’s identity? Which of the legacies in his ancestry matters the most?

15. What did you discover about this chapter in American history? How are the quotations from Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft relevant today?

16. What do you predict for Elizabeth and Nathaniel’s future in Dawn on a Distant Shore? United in marriage, what are their greatest strengths and vulnerabilities?

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Interviews & Essays

On Tuesday, September 1st, welcomed Sara Donati to discuss INTO THE WILDERNESS.

Moderator: Good afternoon, Sara Donati, and welcome to the Auditorium! We are pleased you could join us to chat about INTO THE WILDERNESS. How are you today?

Sara Donati: Thanks for having me. I'm very well and looking forward to talking to your readers.

B.J. from Idaho: INTO THE WILDERNESS was recommended to me by a friend who said that not only was it a wonderful story but it also touched on some interesting environmental themes. Could you tell us more about this? Thank you. I am looking forward to reading your book.

Sara Donati: Most of us tend to think that environmental concerns are very new, but they have been in the public consciousness for a long time. There were already hunting laws and hunting seasons in place in 1792, for example. I wanted to draw on this history to make the time and place seem more real and immediate. I hope you enjoy the novel!

Chris from Los Angeles: Where did your idea for this novel begin?

Sara Donati: Hi, Chris. My idea for the novel was fairly simple. I wanted to take characters similar to those in Jane Austen's novels and put them in an unfamiliar place. Who ever thinks of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and James Fenimore Cooper's frontier as having happened at the same time? So I based Elizabeth Middleton on the daughters in her novels: upper middle class, very socially correct, from quiet country neighborhoods. And then I put them together with Cooper's frontierspeople and watched them grow and change. It was a challenge, but also a lot of fun.

Minnie from Cooperstown, NY: I've noticed that James Fenimore Cooper shows up often in your novel. Is this because of the setting, or was he a strong influence on your book?

Sara Donati: Minnie, thanks for dropping in. I'd have to say that the novel is a very loose retelling of Cooper's THE PIONEERS -- I borrowed some of his characters and a little of his plot. It's an affectionate tribute, but it's changed a lot, too.

Christina Lawson McGovern from Washington, D.C.: What a whopping huge novel for a debut! Longer seems like it is a trend lately (and I'm glad to see it!), with such great big books as CLOUDSPLITTER and UNDERWORLD. Why is INTO THE WILDERNESS such a big book? And how long did it take you to write it?

Sara Donati: Well, Christina, I started writing, the characters came to life, and the story began to evolve. Seven hundred and five pages later, the story came to a logical stopping place. I didn't plan for it to be so long, and even I'm a little surprised at its length. But in the end, the story demanded it. For all its length, I think it's a fairly fast-reading novel, no? And it took me about two and a half years to write it, but I was writing another book at the same time, and teaching as well.

Reg from Pittsburgh, PA: What was your biggest challenge in writing this novel?

Sara Donati: Reg, that's an interesting question. I think the biggest challenge was getting the Mohawk history as factually and emotionally correct as I could. I felt a real obligation to avoid stereotype and not to cast the Native American characters as victims. It was a difficult challenge, and one that still occupies me a lot.

Naomi C. Lindemood from Binghamton, NY: I read that you live on the West Coast, and yet your book explores the wilds of New York. Have you spent a great deal of time in New York? What interested you about this setting?

Sara Donati: I do live on the West Coast, but I grew up in the Midwest and I spent a lot of time in New York State where my father's family lived. The setting interested me because I wanted to write about postrevolutionary times and the lives of everyday people facing many challenges. Also, I did want to retell some of Cooper's story, so that pretty much meant New York.

Oren from Boston: Did any of the characters or events in your book spring from real historical people and events?

Sara Donati: Oren: Yes! I'm glad you asked. One of the things I like to do best is to interweave fiction with fact. Some of the characters were real. The scene at dinner in Albany with the French immigrants -- they were real men, and they came to found a settlement called Castorland, which failed after much hardship. There are other real characters too. I always wonder if readers catch them or not.

Bethany Church from Evanston, IL: You must have done some fascinating research to write this book. What was the most surprising thing you learned?

Sara Donati: Bethany, I think the most fascinating thing is to get a picture of the real turmoil that existed in the few decades after the Revolution. The process of becoming a nation was a long and difficult one, although we tend not to hear about that much in history books. Did you know that there was no U.S. currency until the mid 1790s, and then it took a long time to get going? Up until then, people still used British currency, along with every other kind -- from as many as seventeen other nations. Taxation was a mess (even more than it is now!), there were still debtors' prisons. A truly interesting period.

Lillian from Houston, TX: INTO THE WILDERNESS is historical fiction, but it also seems to be a truly moving love story. A lot of authors are afraid of having their books labeled as romance. How do you feel about this? Would you call your book a romance novel?

Sara Donati: Lillian, I don't mind if people want to call it a romance or a love story -- that is, after all, the most important of the story lines. It's not a traditional romance, of course: It doesn't end when Elizabeth and Nathaniel become a couple. The majority of the novel explores how they change and evolve after they are married. But I think many people like a good love story, even if they don't want to call it a romance. So I'm easy, I suppose, on that one.

Mary M. from Greensboro, NC: What other book were you working on while you were writing INTO THE WILDERNESS? Was it another novel? Can we expect to see it anytime soon?

Sara Donati: I have another novel out [that I wrote] under a different name. That novel is very different from this one, so I used a different name to keep them separated -- apples and oranges, so to speak. If you're really interested, it's called HOMESTEAD and it's under the name Rosina Lippi.

Jen Moore from Baltimore: Congratulations, Sara Donati. I'm halfway through your book, and I must say it's an amazing debut. Do you have any advice for a young writer?

Sara Donati: Jen: I'm so glad you're enjoying it. My advice for any writer is always the same: 1) Read. You have to keep the fire stoked, as I like to think of it. 2) Write! Keep at it. 3) Learn how to take and use constructive criticism from other writers. This is often the hardest part for new writers, who are very protective of what they produce.

S. Paul Greene from Wilmington, DE: How did you conduct your research for INTO THE WILDERNESS?

Sara Donati: I read about 300 books in whole or part, visited museums and archives, and most important I spoke to experts in various areas -- especially to hunters and trappers, medical people, and historians. It was hard work, but it was also a great deal of fun and very satisfying.

Gwen from Ohio: I am reading your novel and just love it. Thanks for such a pleasurable read! My husband and I are going to visit friends in upstate New York, and I would love your recommendations on what to see, based on your delightful book. Can you recommend anything?

Sara Donati: Well, first you must be prepared for a very big lake that wasn't in my story. In the late 1800s, they dammed the Sacandaga to make the Great Sacandaga Lake, so some of the sites in the novel are now underwater. But otherwise I can't think of any place in the Adirondacks that isn't worth visiting. I love the whole area. If you venture further west, the Finger Lakes are wonderful too. I would suggest the Schuyler's home -- where Elizabeth and Nathaniel were married. It's still standing. The name of the town is no longer Saratoga, though. They renamed it Schuylerville, and what is now Saratoga is a newer settlement. Hope this helps!

Ziggy from East Village, NYC: What authors have influenced this book? You as a writer?

Sara Donati: Ziggy: I like this question. I always look at it as an opportunity to push my favorite books and authors. Jane Austen and George Eliot are right at the top of the list because of the way they develop female characterizations. More recently, my favorite authors are Alice Munro, Mark Helprin, Barry Unsworth, A. S. Byatt (POSSESSION is one of my all-time favorite novels). This book specifically was influenced by Cooper, as I've said here already. But it was also influenced by Barry Unsworth and by a novel written by Charles McCarry called BRIDE OF THE WILDERNESS.

Cat from Rochester, NY: What are you reading right now?

Sara Donati: I'm reading Carol Shields's LARRY'S PARTY and Margaret Lawrence's HEARTS AND BONES. I love this Lawrence novel, which is set in Maine in the 1780s. Absolutely wonderful.

Nickie from Atlanta: If you could be there for any part of your book, which would you choose? Which character would you be?

Sara Donati: That is a wonderful question, Nickie. I suppose if I could project myself into the book, I'd like to be Elizabeth, as she experiences so much. But I'd also like to be Hannah, who is very close to my heart. The part of the book I'd want to live through myself...hmm. I'd love to be at the lacrosse game at Barktown.

Liz from Plano, TX: Why do you think historical fiction has become so popular again? Do you plan on writing any contemporary fiction?

Sara Donati: I think people are hungry for meaty stories, and historical fiction usually provides that. Good characterization is important too, of course, but the story is first and foremost for most readers, it seems to me. I do have an idea for a contemporary novel, which I may start fiddling with soon. from XX: Can you tell us a little bit about your experiences with teaching? Did you ever show your students your books? What about showing them earlier versions?

Sara Donati: When I teach creative writing, I don't usually use my own work in the classroom. Sometimes, toward the end of the course, I will have the students read a short story of mine if it fits into what we are discussing. But the course is supposed to be about them, not me. I have a fear of turning a class into a fan club. I know it happens to other writers on rare occasion, and I'm very wary of it. However, [students] often take heart from the knowledge that I have to rewrite and revise and revise and rewrite, so I do talk about that process and how it works for me personally.

Diane from Williamsburg, VA: It must be interesting to write historical fiction about women, since different societal constraints used to be placed on women than perhaps in today's society. It must make for compelling literary territory. What do you think?

Sara Donati: Diane, yes! This is exactly what interested me. It was a very fertile time for women's rights. Mary Wollstonecraft was very visible in England, and women had a big role to play in the abolitionist movement. But overall women lived under great restrictions. On the frontier, some of those restrictions were eased and others were not. I found that really interesting and wanted to explore it. Elizabeth brings the outer world into Paradise, ideas about the rights of little girls (who would have thought to give them any?). She is not anachronistic, but she is unusual in this setting.

Roland from Denver: What are you writing next?

Sara Donati: The sequel to INTO THE WILDERNESS, as yet untitled.

Nelson from New Orleans: How did you first get published? Can you tell an aspiring writer how you got it done?

Sara Donati: I think I'm fairly typical. I had a first short story published in GLIMMER TRAIN when I was 32, and I struggled and struggled along for ten years. Then, in a rather hectic chain of events, my agent sold three novels in three months (I suppose that is where the usual story line changes in my case). All I can say is, find a good agent!

Helen from Syracuse, NY: I read in the bn review that you use some of the details from James Fenimore Cooper's work in your novels. Could you tell us more about how this came about and how his work plays a role in your own? Thanks, I can't wait to read your book. I'm a big fan of Cooper's work, and I think I would like to explore yours as well.

Sara Donati: Helen: I see I have a few more minutes! Yes, this novel is a loose retelling of Cooper's THE PIONEERS. I hope you won't be disappointed.

Moderator: Thank you so much for chatting with us, Sara Donati. It has been a pleasure. We wish you the best of luck with your book! Before you go, do you have any closing comments?

Sara Donati: I've really enjoyed talking to everyone. Thanks so much for this opportunity! There's a chat board at America Online for INTO THE WILDERNESS if anybody is interested. Look up "Women of the Wilderness" if you have the opportunity. Sorry to have missed some interesting questions here.

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Reading Group Guide

1. The town of Paradise and New York State was the untamed frontier at the time Elizabeth came from England to live with her father. What were her expectations from this new life? How were the personal freedoms she expected to enjoy compromised by her father as if they were still in England? By the people of Paradise?

2. Freedom to speak her mind, having her own voice and thoughts, is of utmost importance to Elizabeth. She aligns her beliefs with those of Mary Wollstonecraft’s as stated in her volume The Vindication of the Rights of Women published in 1792. How does Elizabeth’s outspokenness serve her, positively and negatively? With Dr. Todd? With Nathaniel?

3. What do the reactions of the townspeople to Elizabeth’s school make you think about schooling today? Do you understand the local’s concern that an expansive education—filling the children’s heads with philosophy, poetry, literature and the aristocracy—would make them unsatisfied with their lots in life, i.e. the girls won’t be satisfied as a farmer’s wife?

4. Why are money, land and resources important tools to the Mohawk people, aside from the usual basic needs? Why do they hide and guard those resources? How does that compare with the role of money and resources as tools in your own life?

5. Money is an element in all their histories, a tool for all of them, rich, poor, greedy, generous, in the business of trade, etc. Women can not own land on their own; it must go into the hands of a husband should she marry. How does control of land, resources, wealth drive their lives? How does Elizabeths marriage to Nathaniel affect those resources?

6. Elizabeth says she and Nathaniel have power over each other. What evidence did you see of that mutual power? Do you feel that this is a contemporary issue, too?

7. Questions for readers of any of Sara Donati's Wilderness novels:

The northern and northwestern part of New York State was the nation’s untamed frontier in the late 18th and early 19th Century, the era of the Wilderness series. How does this frontier experience differ from that of the traditional western or “wagons west” description of America’s wilder places? How is it the same? Why was the settlement of upper New York State significant to people in Canada? To England? To France? To Holland?

8. Why is settlement by Europeans significant to the Native Peoples—and how do settlers like the Bonner family and others in the town of Paradise both complement and conflict with them? What roles do the slaves and the freed slaves, serve?

9. Discuss the Freeman family’s activities in aiding runaway slaves’ flight to freedom. Do you think they helped these people, or contributed to setting the stage for continuing and future conflict for them? What role did the African Free School, and Manny Freeman’s association with it, play in the abolition of slavery? Do you think the Gradual Manumission Act was devised in a fair manner?

10. Most of the characters in this book have dealt with an eminent amount of loss. How have these losses shaped the characters’ weaknesses and strengths?

11. Author Donati uses wonderful place and character names drawn from the Native Language. Discuss the symbolism of the characters’ names (i.e. Walks-Ahead, Bone-in-Her-Back, Hawkeye, etc.). How do these names illuminate the characters themselves? Would you choose a descriptive name for yourself—and what would that be?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 245 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 245 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A mental escape.

    I really enjoyed Into The Wilderness. Every time I had to put the book down I couldn't wait till I was about to pick it back up. I know it's a good book when after I put the book down I keep thinking about the characters and reliving the scenes I have just read, and wondering what could possibly happen next. I like that there was a little real history involved, but not so much that it over shadowed the love story. I was so happy to find out that Into The Wilderness is the first in a series of book involving Nathaniel, Elizabeth, and the rest of residents of Paradise.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 18, 2012

    Ever seen the movie (or read) The Last of the Mohicans? That is

    Ever seen the movie (or read) The Last of the Mohicans? That is where the premise of this book picks up, with Cora and Hawkeyes' son as the love interest and hero which I picked up on in the first 3 chapters. It was a great movie!!! This book is good for a light and fast read with tasteful romance and a decent plot. Elizabeth & Nathaniel don't remind me at all of Claire and Jamie Fraser, but fans of Outlander would like the story I'm sure.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 19, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Good Read but no originality!

    As I am reading this book, I keep thinking of Outlander! Then I see that so many other readers have compared it to Outlander! THEN...the Outlander characters appear in the novel! Well I wasn't impressed. If I already thought Nathaniel Bonner was an American version of Jamie Fraser, this sured it up for me. Elizabeth (the main female character) is basically another Claire Fraser. She is even given the name (Bone in her Back). So I guess it is a mild version of Oulander but to be honest, it's more like Sara Donati picked up the Frasers, dusted them off, and plopped them in Nathaniel and Elizabeth Bonners origality! Plus...if you are an avid Jane Austen prepared, this author has also stole several of her scenes from Pride and Prejudice as well. When Richard Todd first asks Elizabeth to marry him I had to look at the front of the book again to be sure I was still reading Into the Wilderness...come on! This author has a wonderful writing style. She can pull you into the book, and the characters SHE created and didn't borrow from other authors are very good. My suggestion to Ms. Donati is keep writing BUT trust yourself! You don't need someone elses characters! I would recommend the book, truthfully I loved both Outlander and Pride and Prejudice so I liked the book, but I would like to see more of this authors work, her original work. In the end a good book and I think I will read the next one. Hope this helps other readers.

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Nice Try

    Well...I was very hopeful with this book since I'm a big fan of Gabaldon's Outlander. But...It wasn't as I expected. The characters seem promising at first, but then it all gets too predictable. Yes, it has the touch of romance and adventure, but it stays short, and sometimes I found myself trying to skip on pages (something that never ever happened with Outlander). Not a good review...sorry.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 16, 2010

    The Into the Wilderness series is hands down, one of my all time favorites. If you haven't read these, you are in for such a treat. The last book in the series comes out this month (January). Run, don't walk, to pick up all of these amazing books!

    Sara Donati (aka Rosina Lippi) is a fabulous writer and her tale of Elizabeth Bonner in early America (Saratoga Springs) is captivating. Once started, you will not be able to put it and all the books that follow in the series down. Rosina is a local author (Bellingham WA) and whip smart (former professor of linguistics). If you like high quality historical fiction, you are in luck. This series has been compared to the Diana Gabaldon series and I can see why, but it is superior. It holds together better and all of the characters are more compelling. I never wanted it to end and there will be a lot of us in mourning this month (January 2010) when her last book comes out.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2000


    I think it is probably the best book I have read in a long time. I could not put it down! It's a exciting mixture of romance and adventure. I am looking forward to her next novel.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 9, 2012

    Highly Recommended!

    Just finished Diana Gabaldon's Outlander Series and was looking for something else to read. I am really enjoying this series. I am already reading the second book in the series.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2011


    I just finished this 1st book of the series, set in 18th Century New England, & can't wait to read the rest. I, too, am a huge fan of Gabaldon's Outlander books so am happy to find another historical fiction series that keeps me coming back for more. Nathanial & Elizabeth, like Jamie & Claire, find themselves facing one challenge after another. I couldn't wait to see what happened next & how they would get themselves out of whatever fix they're in. If you're a fan of Historical Fiction with likable characters, great story & descriptive writing, this is definitely for you.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 3, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Snuggle up with hot chocolate and escape to another time...

    Well-written period piece set in the late 1700s in upstate New York - includes a great love story. Recently re-released in this beautiful trade paper edition. Highly recommended - worth reading more than once.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2012

    Many plot twists

    Gabaldon recommended this series and that made me interested in it. It is a long novel with many plot twists that kept it interesting and made it worth reading. It also had a nice connection to the Outlander series.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 17, 2012

    Very good

    Great read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 28, 2011


    Reading this story makes one feel as if they are in the story. As if the reader is a character invited to listen to a conversation. I need to read the entire series now.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2012

    Awesome read!

    Couldn't put it down! LOVED it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 12, 2012

    Highly recommended

    This was a long read, but it was well worth the time. Very interesting characters, well developed. Also an interesting insight into the world of the Native Americans in the 1700's as well as the life of the early settlers. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2012

    Wonderful book!

    I am in the middle of this book and can't put it down. I will read all in the series.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2012

    A Favorite

    Excellent - will read the next one in the series.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2012

    Started slow but ended well.

    I began this series because it was recommended after reading the Outlander series. It started slow. It picks up the pace around page 200. It was almost painfully slow up until this point. All in all though, it was a great book. I can't wait to read the next in the series.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 29, 2012


    Once you start reading this book it will be hard to put down. I have already ordered the second book in the series. Reminds me of Diane Gabaldon series, if you liked them you will like this too.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2012

    A page turner that flowed

    Loved the first it seemed predictible but there were so many twists and turns in the story that I couldn't wait to read on. I'm anxious to start #2. Donati is a very graceful, smooth writer with a flair for the language and customs of the era.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 5, 2012

    As close to Diana Gabaldon as a book can get....

    If you have read all Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series and are aching for more, this is your author. Very closely related yet different enough to enjoy.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 245 Customer Reviews

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