Happy Saturday! I hope everyone has plenty of reading time this weekend! I have a review of The Removes by Tatjana Soli published in June.
This book. Wow. It took me a while to read The Removes because I had to tread slowly. Although it is smoothly written, it required me to take some breaks from it, which I will describe why in a bit.
Set on the American frontier, The Removes is told with three narrators, a fifteen-year-old named Anne, as well as George Armstrong Custer, and his wife, Libbie. In the opening scene, Anne’s family is attacked without warning by the Sioux, and she is held captive. As I read this scene, I knew The Removes would be a special read. The writing was crystal clear and three-dimensional, and the storytelling was emotional, raw, honest, and realistic.
Libbie Custer is thrust into an unknown, hostile life as she travels with her husband and the U.S. Army to the frontier. Once a well-to-do somewhat spoiled only child, Libbie faces daily the harsh realities of frontier life. It makes her stronger, though. She toughens, hardens, to survive her new reality.
Even though we hear from Custer himself, The Removes is really Anne and Libbie’s stories. How they come to terms with the arduous life on the plains, and more importantly, how it shapes their roles as women given society’s expectations at the time. While being mightily dangerous, the frontier is full of freedoms for Anne and Libbie that they would not know elsewhere.
Readers should know this book has graphic scenes of war. Those parts were painful to read at times, but I had to remind myself over and over that you cannot “pretty up” war, and one of this book’s many strengths is in its honesty and authenticity.
The Removes is an ambitious undertaking of a novel, and it delivers on every level. The characters are smashingly developed. I adored them all. The sense of time and place is completely transportive. The pacing builds suspense, and I am pleased I took longer to read this one. It required my time and energy, and I gave it. I learned about “frontier life,” but even more so, I learned about “life.”
Thank you to Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus, and Giroux for the complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.
From the New York Times bestselling author Tatjana Soli, an expansive and transfixing new novel set on the American frontier
Spanning the years of the first great settlement of the west, The Removes tells the intertwining stories of fifteen-year-old Anne Cummins, frontierswoman Libbie Custer, and Libbie’s husband, the Civil War hero George Armstrong Custer. When Anne survives a surprise attack on her family’s homestead, she is thrust into a difficult life she never anticipated—living among the Sioux as both a captive and, eventually, a member of the tribe. Libbie, too, is thrown into a brutal, unexpected life when she marries Custer. They move out to the territories with the U.S. Army, where Libbie is challenged daily and her worldview expanded: the pampered daughter of a small-town judge, she transforms into a daring camp follower. But when what Anne and Libbie have come to know—self-reliance, freedom, danger—is suddenly altered through tragedy and loss, they realize how indelibly shaped they are by life on the treacherous, extraordinary American plains.
With taut, suspenseful writing, Tatjana Soli tells the exhilarating stories of Libbie and Anne, who have grown like weeds into women unwilling to be restrained by the strictures governing nineteenth-century society. The Removes is a powerful, transporting novel about the addictive intensity and freedom of the American frontier.