Knowing at an abstract level that unspeakable horrors have been visited upon a people is one thing. Living it vicariously through narrative is a profoundly different experience. This is why I read historical fiction. Not only do I get a chance to understand history at a much more viceral level, I also learn much about other cultures and their ways of knowing the world.
Choctaw Nation Mississippi 1830:
Isaac, a young Choctaw boy lives idyllically with his parents and older brother until the treaty talk begins. The Nuhullo, (white men) come one night and set fire to their homes and churches. They flee for their lives into the swamp where the Nuhullo are afraid to come. They are safe until winter arrives and the swamp freezes over. A smallpox epidemic ravages the group and Issac's family is forced to flee again.
This time they end up part of the Choctaw Trail of Tears. It's a savage journey filled with hardship, brutality, death and ghosts. In fact the tale begins with this warning:
"Maybe you have never read a book written by a ghost before. I am a ghost. I am not a ghost when this book begins, so you have to pay very close attention. I should tell you something else. I see things before they happen. You are probably thinking, "I wish I could see things before they happen."
Be careful what you wish for."
I was hooked, terrified, and anxious as I waited for the inevitable to happen.
I've heard of the Cherokee trail of tears, but really had no comprehension of the magnitude of the American Indian Removal Act in 1830. Thousands of Native American people from different nations were forced to leave their land and march across the country in winter weather conditions with inadequate food and shelter. It is estimated that 2500 to 6000 people died in the Choctaw iteration of these journeys. Thousands more from other groups died along the other trails.
In the midst of contemplating the dystopian aspect to this novel, and the popularity of that genre, I realize that North American History is punctuated with numerous dystopian eras. Tim Tingle has highlighted one of these for us.