Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Publisher: Shiloh Run Press
Take a three-thousand mile journey with Amanda Pearson as she leaves the disgrace of a broken engagement and enters the work of a Quaker mission in the western wilds. The trip is fraught with danger, and Amanda is near death before reaching her destination. Among those she meets are an Indian woman who becomes her first convert and a half-Indian trapper who seems to be her biggest critic. But love follows her into the wilderness and will determine the course of her future.
Woman of Courage is my second experience with Wanda E. Brunstetter (see my review of White Christmas Pie). Having revisited my thoughts on my first Brunstetter read, I’m not surprised to see that my newest impression lines up it.
Character development takes a backseat to plot. I would have liked getting to know Amanda better. We don’t learn much about her beyond the fact that she is the daughter of a Quaker preacher and she is jilted the day before her wedding. Aside from all the “thee”s and “thou”s, we learn little of what sets the Quaker faith apart. And while Brunstetter shares back stories for others like Mary “Yellow Bird”, Buck, and even Jim, Amanda’s life is not fleshed out. She, therefore, seems very single-minded in her quest to reach the Spalding’s Quaker mission to convert the Nez Perce.
Speaking of bringing Christianity to the Nez Perce, I had some things to investigate. More than once in the novel, Amanda mentions that the Nez Perce sent a delegation to St. Louis asking for a missionary to come west and share Christianity with them. True? A group of tribal leaders did go to Saint Louis in 1831. Why? It depends on whose account of the story you read. While the request for missionaries is apparently the accepted Christian historical record, the Nez Perce oral history tells a different tale. One source I read says the delegation was seeking to acquire technology, another that they wanted not missionaries, but teachers when they asked for this “book of Heaven” because they understood that education could enable their people to be more prosperous. We may never know the real motives behind their request, but I suspect it’s not as simple as the “savage” asking to be saved by white missionaries. And from accounts I have read, Spalding may well have been abusive and intolerant in his dealings with the Nez Perce, forcibly requiring that they abandon their customs and replace their nomenclature with Christian ways and words. Indeed, in the novel, we see a church member ask a tribal member to stop referring to God as “The Great Spirit”.
Another question that my reading of the book prompted is this: Who may be more appropriately referred to as the “woman of courage”: Amanda or Mary “Yellow Bird”? I’ll go no further than to say that my money is on Yellow Bird. However, this question (along with the one previously mentioned) would certainly be a worthy topic of discussion in classrooms or reading groups.
3 of 5 hearts. Recommended, With Reservation.
Woman of Courage is not without flaws, but has value in that it can spark meaningful historical, cultural, and religious discussion. Mind you, all said, some will read the novel without any problems or inklings of historical bias and be perfectly content with the yarn it spins.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Barbour Publishing for allowing NetGalley access to the book in exchange for my honest review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”