(Excerpts from communications I have received as well as a posted review.)
Thanks so much for giving voice to some of what Earth knows, and for helping your mortal readers “see” and “feel” the saga of history in which we are truly one with each other and one with the universe–each as small in the scheme of things as a grain of Earth’s sand, yet each a vessel of history-changing potential.
To begin with, I feel enormous appreciation for the amount of research necessary to write this book—your study of historical events, land, tools, customs/culture, architecture, and on and on, within so many settings. I also feel great admiration for your ability to keep such extensive notes organized and accessible, and to pleasingly incorporate so much of that information into the various stories within the story. What a remarkable accomplishment!
The use of Earth as narrator was, I think, creative; and, though demanding on you as a writer, my opinion is that it ultimately worked quite well to have what amounted to an “almost omnipotent narrator” accept the limitations and rights of this “body.” For one thing, it’s a great vehicle for reflection—ie., “The humans kill in fear, forgetting that in us their histories are one.” (380)
Because the weaving of the stories and characters is as complex as it is, I would have benefited by fewer stops/starts in my reading. When I would return after a break, my inner “place keeper” would be ready to continue with the characters I’d left when I put the book down; but most often I would be greeting someone else. It’s pretty amazing to me that–in spite of the frequent scene shifts and my occasional difficulty in immediately remembering what we were doing when I was last with those now on the page—you were able to make me care enough for all of them that I would quickly adjust and be glad to be back in touch with whomever had reappeared.
There are so many beautiful and poetic phrases, sentences, paragraphs, it seems pointless to identify a few. However, I’ll type one (in no way suggesting its superiority) to simply acknowledge that as I read, I was aware of your skill in this realm: “We felt the pressure building, the peoples pressed and lured from Europe, forced from Africa, colliding with the people knit by animals and plants into the rocks of mountain ridges, the loam of silted streams. It was an inexorable movement, heaving up a mountain of pain.” (330).
Jane Young. Author, Lake Junaluska, NC
Red Clay, Blood River is a three-century saga peppered with symbolic images and a complicated lineage of characters. Valentin Trask sails to America as an indentured servant; Jakob Trask sails to England and eventually South Africa. Thembinkosi is captured, chained, and sails to South Africa where she is enslaved. Years later, she is sold and sails to America, where she is slave to a Cherokee couple.
Earth is the narrator for this part of the story and a sagacious communicator with the women in the novel. The theme is about the connectivity we have to our world and how the earth binds us to each other. To support this, Everett presents the parallels between the Cherokee “Trail of Tears” and South Africa’s “Great Trek.”
The second story is that of Clayton, Lanier, and Marie, ecology students who met while doing research. At first I was annoyed by their conversations, wanting to focus more on the past. It becomes less intrusive as the story develops.
The author’s strength is his subtle symbolism threaded throughout, beginning with his choice of title, Red Clay, Blood River. He has planned his flow of symbols to show connections between people. The character of Thembinkosi is enchanting and regal, yet a slave, who withstood so much and complained so little. Her strength, beauty, and soul out-shined all others, enough where I would hope her story would develop more into another novel.
Everett has conveyed the harsh realities of each country’s historical events, government oppression, brutality, and the degradation of slavery. It is a story of inspiration, love, romance, and hope with a message given that deep relationships can form with others when we eliminate the lines, borders, and walls that prevent connections.
Wisteria Leigh, posted at the Historical Novel Society’s online review website and at Wisteria Leigh’s blog, Bookworm’s Dinner, for February 15, 2009
What a wonderful way to keep the ‘light on’ a historical novel while drawing many in for a closer experience. It is one thing to identify with one or more of your characters, it is quite another to find oneself living the story and yearning for a similar freedom in the moment without losing contact with the power of our histories, especially as they have been so deeply forged by the heat and passion of past memories and experiences.
I am still enjoying Red Clay Blood River. Slowly savoring its messages and finding my own connections with Earth through your characters experiences.
Thanks again for sharing your passion and wisdom about so much that really matters in life.
Steven Overall, Hospital Chaplain, Kansas City, KS.
Like a laser beam Bill Everett has focused upon the twin tragedies of the Cherokee people’s “Trail of Tears” and South Africa’s “Great Trek” which occurred in 1838. The historical struggle of two peoples comes alive and personal through his poetic prose and sensitivity to the courage and desperation of the human spirit. This is more than history. It becomes personal if you read it with your heart. The timeless wisdom of eternity is expressed in earth’s narration of the human conflict: “The more they had, the more they feared its loss. In fear they fought. So blood seeps in our ground…the humans kill in fear, forgetting that in us their histories are one.”
All through the book I was forced to wonder how I would survive in the wilderness struggle of two opposing forces. Once again, I was reminded of the “fallenness” of humanity in the white race’s cruel domination of other people.
The authenticity of your spirituality is reflected as you write of the relationship between earth and humanity deepening my own conviction of the oneness of creation.
Oscar Dowdle, retired Pastor, Lake Junaluska, NC
I would like to tell you … that I thought the way the voice of the earth played a part in the narrative was beautiful and moving. The historical sections concerning the ancestors in South Africa and North Carolina were the most engaging part of the story for me. Fascinating! I am impressed that you made the shift from academic publishing so gracefully. I will look forward to another novel.
Susan Broadhead, Barnardsville, NC
I especially loved the voice of the planet, as interpreted by you, and her poetry.
There was one point or two when I wished for a glossary reminding me who all the characters were, but a book can only be so long.
… I’m a map person, and wanted really detailed maps of the places you took us. But the 3 main characters are terrific and the intertwining stories and tales are rich. I thought it would make a great movie, or a play. I finished it quickly. It was sad and funny in parts and just a good tale. Thank you for writing it. Good job!
Pippa Vanderstar, classics teacher, Philadelphia, PA
I will try my best to spread the word around about your book. It was a lot of fun to read it. Two things were very striking to me. (1.) Your use of the three in Athens intermittingly between the three streams of ancestral stories was very interesting. It kept the suspense about who these three were going till the last chapter. (2.) Your keeping the earth as the narrator throughout the book was quite stunning. I wonder whether anyone else has done some thing like that. It was very stimulating. The opening statement by the earth was an excellent eco-theological piece!
Thomas Thangaraj, Tirunelveli, India, Emeritus Professor, Emory University, Atlanta, GA
I am very picky about the books I read because I cannot stand bad writing. Therefore I often prefer non-fiction by someone I know can write (McCullough). This book touches me deeply; I love the way it is structured (even if, at times, I can feel the didactism), it reminds me of the beauty of the Grand Canyon from whence we just returned. History and literature have made a great team through the author’s knowledge and, especially, his poetry. His images, his choice of words for earth and ocean, the beauty and strength of the characters — I often have to stop reading to read one of those italicised paragraphs to my husband, or to just think about them.
Elke Gordon, Washington, DC
I haven’t read The Holy Bible. It may be denser, but I daresay not as rewarding… as your book. Surely the scope and the levels are comparable; the synthesis of the stories, yours wins hands down.
I felt challenged… rewarded… to equal degrees. There was so much to savor, so much to ponder. To still reflect upon. To re-visit.
It called me back to my earliest gleanings from Joseph Campbell: “We need to think of ourselves as coming out of the earth, not being put here from somewhere else. We are the earth- its consciousness- its eyes, its ears, its voice.” (Well, that’s close.) And you dared to let me hear its voice speaking back…. Oh my.
Barbara B. Smith, actress, Clyde NC
…”Red Clay, Blood River” has been my companion for quite a while. Due to a variety of things to do I could not read it in one go, but even so it kept me wanting to discover how you managed to get this grand story to its end.
First, I admire your narrative skills. The trio of Marie, Clayton and Lanier are clearly recognizable characters, and the ways they relate to each other makes a lot of sense.
Obviously, the narrative about the German, Cherokee and African families had to be graphic in style. It is fascinating to read how these strands come together in your book. I did ask myself, however, why the actual date of 1838, the Trail of Tears and the Blood River battle, receive only scant attention although the entire – historical – part of your novel is leading up to it. Did you feel that the book would get too epic? (In fact I thought there needed to be 200 pages more!)
The role of the Earth as the “eigentlicher Erzähler” [the actual narrator] did not convince me although I understand that s/he is the fundamental reference point of the narratives that you are weaving together. You must have pondered over this a lot, but I keep wondering why you have not convinced me. Maybe it is a stylistic thing? The way the Earth speaks is rather sombre and mysterious. My reservation may also be a typically German thing – our suspicion about any “Blut und Boden”-language [“blood and ground/soil”], which – I fully realize – is far from what you have in mind.
So I find your book fascinating and puzzling at the same time. Again, let me say: Herzliche Glückwünsche für ein so großen Werk! [Hearty congratulations for such a great work!] Amazing!
Geiko Mueller-Fahrenholz, Theologian, Bremen, Germany
I’m a former English teacher and a book club member, and incidentally a world traveler, a genealogist and a world history buff.
You and your wife have obviously done a lot of research on the locations and the history you mentioned. I think the individual stories of the slaves, pioneers, etc. are the strongest feature of the book – I found those parts hard to put down.
The modern part involving the three students was less interesting to me, although it was clever the way you intertwined their lives and their spirituality. Maybe this part was too long and repetitious, and a little far-fetched.
As for the writing it was very good except for some of the conversations, which were written in short sentences – a bit jerky. Better to mix them up with some longer ones. [A friend] made the comment that the reader didn’t always know who was speaking and I found it a little that way, too. But I’d certainly recommend the book to friends and to book clubs.
Shiena Polehn, Medford, OR
Red Clay, Blood River is an enchanting tale. It is obvious you have done extensive research, and the entanglements of the European, African and American cultures and crises are marvelously entwined. Your selection of the contemporary characters fits the bill very well. … Your fourth “person” – the earth – was a clever common thread that also adds an element of contemplation for the reader. All in all it is first rate. …One thing that stands out – head and shoulders above the usual publication – is the lack of typos. It seems that nobody cares about them today but I was only aware of ONE in your book. …it made reading your book a pleasure!
F. Alden Murray, retired television producer, Frederick, MD
With a tight yet fluid writing style you took what could have been old and stale, breathed in fresh air, and added a heartbeat. Your book is fascinating…
Sonja Contois, author, Waynesville, NC
One of the highlights of my summer reading was your novel. I enjoyed it but was also educated and inspired by it. You did a remarkable job! … Your imagery, similes, metaphors, personification and description were all well appreciated by this ex-reading teacher!
Ruth Rothchild, Atlanta, GA
I just finished reading your hauntingly beautiful novel “Red Clay, Blood River,” and I would like to say: thank you, thank you so much for writing this gripping tapestry of interwoven times, lives and places! You obviously have an astounding gift for poetic language to the point where I frequently found myself wanting to linger with your rich, resounding images instead of following the unfolding plot. Even though the stories of these various refugees are deeply unsettling, your way of embedding them in the memory and hope of the enduring, all embracing presence of the Earth allows for some reconciliation.
Karin Gunnemann, author, Atlanta, GA