I wrote this post for Book Babe to give it a wider audience, but I also wanted it on this blog. So it's the latest in my series of copied posts.
I am one of the many people who loves and cherishes the mythical
Pocahontas. In fact, I played Pocahontas in a Thanksgiving play in
elementary school. This was long before she became the subject of a
Disney movie, by the way. Disney didn't invent the legendary
Pocahontas. Disney didn't even popularize the story. Pocahontas became
a popular legend during her own lifetime. She achieved celebrity
status and was the darling of London society when she was barely out of
It was Paula Gunn Allen's biography, Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat
that caused me to re-examine the myth. Allen was a Native American
author who sought to revolutionize the way history is written. She wrote
her biography in such a way that she could include speculation and
imaginative re-creation of events in the manner of historical fiction.
This leads me to Tidewater
by Libbie Hawker. I think that if Hawker included a list of the roles
that Pocahontas played in the title of her novel as Allen did, it would
be rather different. Perhaps her title would read Jester,Linguist,Political Adviser and Spy. The
only thing that Hawker and Allen would agree on is that Pocahontas was a
spy. It seems to me that every author who has written about Pocahontas
has their own version of her.
How authentic is
Hawker? How much authenticity is possible when it comes to Pocahontas?
How much authenticity is desirable within the context of historical
fiction? These are questions that I will be tackling in this review. I
received a copy of this book for free from the publisher via Net Galley.
important to realize that we don't have any contemporary account of
Pocahontas written by her. It would have been theoretically possible
for Pocahontas to have kept a diary after John Rolfe taught her to read
and write in English, but I think she was too busy living her life to
write about it. The only contemporary account that we have is the one
that catapulted her to the 17th century equivalent of superstar status.
It was authored by John Smith. Keep in mind, that this was a man who
made his living by writing self-aggrandizing memoirs. He was neither
the first nor the last writer whose career centered on inventing
himself. Can we believe anything that he wrote? In her author's note,
Hawker wrote that she found Smith sympathetic and selectively credible.
Unfortunately, it's difficult to decide what is truth and what has been
concocted by the author to make him look good when there is only one
source available. It comes down to individual judgment and
preference. Both of these involve subjectivity. This is how we can
have different versions of Pocahontas that are all completely valid. We
don't really know the truth about her.
I believe that
when you are writing any kind of fiction you need to tell a good story
about characters who the readers will consider interesting and
plausible. When you are writing fiction about a historical personage,
you are constrained by what can be definitely known. We do know the
birth and death dates of Pocahontas. If Pocahontas was a child when she
first encountered John Smith, as seems to be the case, it is not
plausible that she would have fallen in love with him. This is why
Libbie Hawker didn't give us a Pocahontas who was motivated by romantic
feelings toward Smith even though it certainly does make a good story.
Hawker's Pocahontas interesting? She is complex, but not always
sympathetic. I included political adviser in the list of Pocahontas'
roles in this book even though she made some poor recommendations. She
was too young to have mature judgment and she was trying too hard to be
influential. Ambition was her most significant flaw. As she grew
older, she came to understand that ambition had caused her to make some
serious mistakes. Unfortunately, this didn't stop her from making more
of them. She was blinded by her desire for recognition.
believes that Pocahontas showed John Rolfe how to grow tobacco
successfully in Virginia's climate. If she married Rolfe for the sake
of her people as she claimed in this novel, then that sort of assistance
was another serious error. This was a colony that was established for
profit. Pocahontas apparently wasn't aware that the colony hadn't
produced anything that gave the Virginia Company any return on their
investment. If John Rolfe hadn't successfully grown a profitable
strain of tobacco, it's very possible that the colony would have been
terminated and the Powhatan Confederacy might have ceased to have an
English problem--for that generation at least.
provided a glossary of terms in the language of Pocahontas' people, the
Powhatans.This is one of the few novels that I've encountered in which
terms that are in the glossary were hyper-linked within the text in the
digital version. This makes the glossary more useful in this format.
Looking for terms in the glossary using search is much more time
consuming. I wish that hyperlinks in the text were standard for all
novels that have a glossary.
I think that Tidewater is
a good novel that's well-plotted with memorable characters. Though I
do wish that Paula Gunn Allen had decided to write a novel about
Pocahontas instead of her non-traditional biography. Then we would have
had two compelling fictional versions of Pocahontas that contravene the