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Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America by Amy Belding Brown is a stunningly beautiful book. I hesitated in getting this at first. The reason? It’s set in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1676. As in, pre-Revolutionary War.
What caught my attention about this book is that it’s about Native Americans. This book is a creative interpretation of the life of Mary Rowlandson.
Mary lived with the Puritans. They were very rigid with their way of life. Mary was captured by Indians on a cold winter day where she was enslaved to a powerful woman tribal leader. While she lived among them she battled cold, hunger and exhaustion. Her captivity exposed her to something unexpected to her – kindness. She was exposed to the free life of the Native Americans and met James Printer. James was an English-speaking native. Later she was returned to the English.
This book was beautiful. Amy Belding Brown’s strength is her ability to weave in beautiful juxtaposition. The first juxtaposition is the relationship between Mary’s known way of life and her new way of life. The Puritan life was almost fanatically religious and left no room to question beliefs. Brown sets this up beautifully with Mary hinting at her “questioning.” The second juxtaposition set up is between her and her husband. Her husband is a man who valued status and power over God himself. The third set up is the place of the woman in society. Finally, the fourth set-up is the idea of “self-importance” or “self-worth.”
These are all contrasted when Mary is kidnapped by the Native Americans. She learns everything she thought she knew was – well – wrong. The Native American’s allowed religious questioning, the James, the English-speaking Indian, was very kind and gentle to her. Women in the Indian tribe were more powerful than men. Finally, she’d always been taught that her “English” ways made her special. Nope. Now she’s a slave.
Another thing about this book that I liked was that it challenged the character. I am a sucker for books where the character is forced to question themselves, their beliefs and their upbringing. Brown did this very well. She made it clear from the beginning that Mary wanted one thing but her society denied it. When Mary received it she loved it.
Brown has a gift for building scenes. Her work was so clear to me. I could feel the snow, the warmth of the fire, the breath of the horse. However, some of the scenes were graphic. Not sexually, but more along the lines of violence. The reader should be aware of that if they are sensitive to violence. It didn’t bother me, but to some people it might be an issue.
The characters in Flight of the Sparrow were also real and moving.
The research – dear God, the research Brown must’ve put into her work. Can I just tell you how amazing it was? I have to give props to her about that. She really hit it out of the park in my opinion.
This is, however, a very creative interpretation of Mary Rowlands life. What does that mean? Basically, Brown thought the story was pretty awesome, did her research and thought, well, I want to write a book about this. So I will. And she wrote a fiction book based on a real person. She did a good job with it.
The only criticism I have of this book, and it’s really a nit-pick thing, is that some of the dialogue was in old-English. When I say that, think of words like: thee, thou, etc. It was used sparingly, but for me personally, it kind of made me roll my eyes.
I highly recommend this book. I think it’s a beautiful story and incredibly written.