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“Freeman presents ravishing visions of the land, which becomes as much a character in her drama as the people she so vividly conjures . . . Gorgeous and galvanizing.” —Newsday
“[C]ompelling, vivid writing that is both compassionate and unflinching; Freeman has gotten under the skin of these three very different women and their milieu in a profoundly affecting way.” —The Seattle Times
“[R]evelatory. . . . [C]reates a vivid, believable picture of the high religious fervor and red-dust-covered hardships of the Utah frontier.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“Freeman renders the terrible beauty of this land and the flinty resolve of these people with great skill.” —The Washington Post
“Captures the mayhem of America’s westward expansion . . . An evocative tale of religious brutality and pioneer hardship set against an unforgiving landscape.” –Chicago Tribune
“Intense, charged with real feeling and electricity . . . Intelligent, complex prose will give readers a chance to reflect on the deeper meanings of love and faith and endurance.” –The Oregonian
“Engrossing. . . . Freeman eschews the tributaries of contemporary domestic life for the deeper and darker lake of the past. . . . Unforgettable.” –St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“The narrative soars . . . makes astute points about the almost indistinguishable similarities between faith and love.” –The New Yorker
“A powerful novel whose three narrators engage us so completely that we absorb their intricate history effortlessly.” –BookPage
1. Why does Judith Freeman title her novel Red Water? What significance does the color red acquire as the novel progresses? What role does the harsh Utah landscape itself play in the story?
2. Why does Freeman choose to tell the story of Red Water through three different points of view? In what ways are Emma, Ann, and Rachel different from each other? What does this multiple perspective add to the novel?
3. Emma says that she is “well aware that, to the uninitiated, to those who live outside the realm of our kingdom, our lives must appear unfathomable, or like a labyrinth, especially with regard to our marriage customs” [p. 55]. Is she right about this? How difficult is it to understand nineteenth-century Mormon polygamy? Does the novel succeed in making these customs more comprehensible to non-Mormon readers?
4. Why does Emma fall in love with John D. Lee? In what ways is their love both physical and spiritual? Why does Lee ask Emma to call him “Father”?
5. In describing John D. Lee’s relationship with his many wives, Emma says that “his authority wasabsolute, and yet in truth, over time I came to see how little control he had over his wives. Just as he couldn’t control the winds that reduced his cornfields to tatters or the rains that washed out his dams. We, too, were our own force of nature, and we required careful tending in order not to overleap our banks” [p. 65]. How do Emma, Ann, and Lee’s other wives assert their independence?
6. Ann says of John D. Lee: “He was the sort of man for whom no middle feeling existed. People either thought him generous and friendly and kindhearted, or shifty and power-hungry and dishonest” [p. 238]. Why does Lee arouse such disparate reactions?
7. Red Water is a historical novel, describing events that occurred over a century ago. How is this story of Mormons in the west, of their social and personal relations and of a massacre their leaders may or may not have planned, relevant to world events today? Are the Mormons in the novel guilty, as Ann claims, of committing horrible crimes “for the sake of . . . fanatical beliefs” [p. 317]?
8. At the heart of Red Water is a persistent and troubling question that is never fully answered: Was John D. Lee made a scapegoat for the massacre at the Meadows, and if so by whom? Was he responsible for some of the killings that day?
9. Why do the Mormons want to convert the Indians? What does Brigham Young imagine will become of the Indians one day? What does this belief suggest about how the Mormons interpreted the relationship between race and religion?
10. Red Water offers little in the way of a conventional plot to pull the reader along. What other means does Freeman use to arouse and sustain her reader’s interest?
11. Of the three wives given the fullest treatment in the novel, Rachel is the most devoutly religious. What do her journal entries reveal about the nature of her faith? How is she different from both Emma and Ann? In what ways does she represent both the strengths and the weaknesses of her religion? Is she, as she claims, Lee’s “one true wife” [p. 313]?
12. Near the end of the novel, as Rachel worries about Navajo raids, she thinks, “We are in the hands of the Lord and all things are promised to work together for the good of those who love and fear God, though why this did not save my husband’s life, I do not know” [p. 279]. What does her thinking here suggest about the problems of trusting in God’s will? What does the novel as a whole seem to suggest about the notion of God’s control of, and intervention in, human affairs?
13. What kind of man, finally, is John D. Lee? What are his good qualities? What are his flaws? What motivates his behavior—personal ambition and lust for both sex and power, or a driving spiritual vision and deep compassion for others? Does the novel decide these questions or leave them up to the reader?
14. Is it possible to tell what Freeman’s attitude is toward Lee, and the Mormons generally, as they are represented in the novel? To what extent should the novelist reveal or conceal her own moral or political stance in the telling the story? Should she simply tell the story, or should she subtly guide her readers?
15. What large questions does the novel raise about the relationship between religious freedom and federal law, personal conscience and social conventions, true faith and spiritual hypocrisy? Are the Mormons, and other groups like them both in America and abroad, persecuted religious minorities or dangerous fanatics?
Posted January 19, 2005
This is one of the most fascinating true stories I have ever read. The author makes you care about the wives of JOhn D.Lee especially his first wife Emma who's story is told in the first person. We learn a lot about the history of these people .Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 19, 2005
I found this book to be one of the most fascinating and compelling books I've read. I was surprised to learn that it is based on historical fact and John D.Lee was in fact a real person with over 18 wives. I was most impressed with Emma's first person narration of her life with John and his wives. The author makes the reader care and hope for the wives in the story.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 15, 2004
Freeman's 'Red Water' as a fictional work is substantiated to be so close to historical fact by the events of those who were called by Brigham Young to leave thier homesteads in the Salt Lake Valley and harvest the unforgiving desert of Southern Utah. Here our childrens clothes, the bricks of our homes, and even our skin is stained 'red' from the soil, the metaphor was articulate and brilliant. As a resident of Washington Utah and a Daughter of a Utah Pioneer I applaude Judith Freeman for her portrayal of this controversial event as a bronze statue of John D. Lee sits in a warehouse in the dark removed by our Washington Utah city council. No massacre could have been undertaken by one man alone, although tragic and not forgotton by those who live here but with the isolation, lack of communication from Salt Lake and their former memberships in other faith, this area was a melding pot of religous fanatics giving meaning to the Biblical parable of putting 'New wine in old bottles.' Lee's hands are likely to be bloody, but as the only man condemned to die for 120 souls slayed seems condesending in theory as Red Water shows he was obviously the communal and church scapegoat, however men act in poor judgement in a perpetual state of fear and hunger. Don't judge them too harshly Dear Readers remembering their mental states after Missouri (the Mormon-Extermination Act still on the books until 1960-70's where it was legal to kill a Mormon), Carthage-and the murder of the Prophet and his brother Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Navoou, and the perilous journey across the plains as my own Great-Grandparents buried 4 of their 5 children in shallow graves along with way. Red Water shows strength in character of 3 women that modeled the lives of our Great-Grandmother's, no matter how silent were not mealy-moused women, but survivors and fighters in their faith who chose their lifestyle of poligamy. Freeman crossed the line slightly as she delves into things sacred to the Mormon people but accomplishes her work with a gift of developing her characters and good story-telling, I could not put this book down. I disagree with the critic from New York who would not leave their name-in the days of fantasy and Harry Potter this is the real deal. Do not pass this one by-a must read!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 5, 2003
These are stories of pioneers in religion and of the west. I enjoyed this book very much. I had no idea the US used the polygamy issue as a way to divert attention from slavery. In this story is love, survival, care of children and animals, farming, a glimpse into Mormonism and search for self.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 19, 2003
This is great writing. I was completely taken in by just about everything about this book. I found the characters complex, the scenery beautiful, the language believable. The women were all interesting to me, and I didn't find anywhere that my interest lagged. I even found myself seeing John D. Lee as human for the first time, something even his memoirs were unable to accomplish. I don't know much about the theology or morality of the 19th century Mormon church, so I can't really say whether it was accurate in that regard or not, although I found it believable. I do, however, know a great deal about Mountain Meadows, having read just about everything published about it, including much of the apologist garbage that passes for history written by defenders. I can tell you that I found nothing she wrote about the massacre with which I disagreed, right down to "putting the saddle on the right horse." Brigham Young was directly responsible for ordering the massacre, and John D. Lee was just following orders, although that makes him no less a murderer in my eyes. It is no better defense here than it was at Nuremberg or Mai Lai. I do confess a bias, however, although different from that of others. I first "met" Captain Alexander Fancher, leader of the Fancher party murdered at the meadows, as I was researching his brother, my great grandfather John Fancher. I found them and their families side by side in the 1850 census of San Diego, California. They had apparently come out together to try their hand at cattle raising and were headed for Tulare county in central California. There I saw a listing of Captain Fancher and his entire family, wife Eliza (whose blood stained dress Emma was wearing in the scene of her great humiliation), age 28, son Hampton, age 12, William age 10, Mary, age 9, Thomas, age 7, Martha, age 4, and lastly the twins, both 1 and a half, Sarah and Margaret, for whom my mother was named. All of these people would be murdered at Mountain Meadows by John D. Lee and those he led and followed. Even the twins, a mere 8 years old at the time of the massacre, did not survive. Only Kit Carson Fancher and Traphina (Emma's apparent accusor in the dress scene) survived, both born after 1850. Alexander and family had returned to Arkansas to collect family and friends to bring out to the California paradise and were headed to meet his brother when they met their fate. His brother John, with whom Captain Fancher was very close, didn't know of his brother's fate for some time after the massacre, and didn't know the truth until many years later. So you see, it takes quite a gifted writer to humanize someone like John Doyle Lee in my eyes. I even found him sympathetic at times. Freeman has found a way to zero in on one of the great mysteries of the Mountain Meadows Massacre: how otherwise decent men, who love and are loved, could find it in their hearts to commit such a slaughter of innocents. This is by far the best fictional account of the massacre and its aftermath that I have ever read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 22, 2002
The Mountain Meadows Massacre is an event in US history full of drama, conflicts, and high emotional stakes. With so much going for you, how can a writer loose? Unfortunately the massacre is only used as a backdrop for some very bland and one dimensional character writing. Additionally, the author passed on the terrific conflict for cheep thrills. Instead of telling a good story, she focuses on titillating her audience with fanatic behavior and sexual situations. The Mormon faith is one with a lot of mystic. The author seems intent on portraying this faith as negatively as possible. Maybe her agenda got in the way of a good story? Pass this one by.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 14, 2011
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Posted December 7, 2008
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