zaterdag 30 augustus 2014
Visions of Teaoga
Author: Jim Remsen
Genre: Middle School (Target Age 10-14) / Historical Fiction
Visions of Teaoga is a historical novel for young readers that weaves together the adventures of an actual American Indian figure known as Queen Esther and a fictional middle schooler named Maddy, with a dash of time travel thrown in. By revisiting the drama of Eastern borderland upheaval in the 1700s, the book is appropriate as supplemental required reading in middle-school US history classes. By adding Maddy and her modern sensibilities to the telling, it helps us consider how we might regard the Indian-settler legacy in our own time. Here’s a summary:
The year is 1790. Esther returns under cover to Teaoga, the site of her burned village. It is overrun with white settlers. Esther, honored by her people but hunted by the settlers as a killer, has come to secretly observe a U.S.-Iroquois peace council. While there, she stealthily provides a circle of Indian women with her lessons of survival and mentors a troubled native girl in the ways of leadership.
Moving ahead to the present day, our young Maddy visits the same place, now an out-of-the-way hamlet on the New York-Pennsylvania border, on a summer trip. Diffident yet curious, she grows fascinated with Teaoga’s lost world and its inhabitants, chief among them the mysterious Esther. Encounters with the locals, including a colorful historian and two extraordinary boys, send Maddy headlong into exploring this crossroads of civilizations. As the parallel stories unfold, sparks begin flying across the centuries. Increasingly, Maddy’s journey into history becomes a journey of self-discovery. By the end, she has taken on Esther’s mantle of the “peace woman” and sets out to heal a hurt she has caused back home.
Visions of Teaoga is a hybrid work, part supernatural page-turner, part detailed history textbook. As Jim says, “While I certainly want the book to be engaging and fun, my underlying purpose is to have kids confront this lost world and appreciate the little-taught, often surprising ways so many of the native cultures came undone. The Teaoga locale is a perfect microcosm of that important multicultural history, but there are similar examples everywhere. It’s all part of our rich local history, glowing underfoot, waiting to be explored.”
Jim Remsen is an editor and author who is pursuing a lifelong interest in history following his award-winning journalism career. At The Philadelphia Inquirer, Jim rose through the ranks to become the newspaper’s Religion Editor. He and his reporters won national awards during his tenure, with the Religion Newswriters Association honoring his Faith Life section as one of the top two religion sections among major North American newspapers.
Visions of Teaoga is Jim’s second published book, and comes after a long pause since his successful first venture. In the 1980s, soon after becoming a father, Jim saw the need for a hands-on guidebook about interfaith marriage. He and a journalist friend spent an action-packed year researching and writing The Intermarriage Handbook: A Guide for Jews and Christians. The book was released to wide acclaim, and nearly a quarter-century later remains in print (with HarperCollins) as a successful bible for mixed-faith couples.
Jim lives outside Philadelphia with his wife, Harriet. They have three adult sons.
Excerpt 1 (from Chapter 19) is a climactic scene from the book’s historic 1790 plotline. The Indian matriarch Esther and her young protégé, Sisketung, have summoned the white (yengwe) settler girl Sarah to a final encounter along the Teaoga ridgeline:
Above them, Sarah shifted warily. Sisketung kept her eyes on the yengwe -- hoping by sheer force of mind to relay Esther’s meaning to her.
“Daughters, these have been dark times,” Esther continued. “Our two peoples do not abide together well. Much of the land has been reddened with blood and remains pained and sickened. The times have left me bitter. Daughters, the path ahead may be even darker, even more narrow. The omens tell me treachery and danger will hover near you like vultures.
“But Daughters, listen well. The path ahead belongs to you now, to watch over and protect through seasons to come. People with good hearts must step forward to guard the path and keep it open. People with good hearts who will counsel understanding, who will listen, who will show patience and respect. It is a hard way. It is a way that people with closed hearts and wicked ends will try to stop. But listen well: It is the way of the Preserver!”
Reaching into her deerskin pouch, Esther retrieved two wampum strings. They were the two remaining strands she had carried to Teaoga – the sacred white strings of peace. She held them out in her open palm.
“Daughters, I ask you to walk together on the bright path, the path of peace. I pray that you will keep the path smooth and wide. I pray that you, Sisketung, will teach you, Sarah, our sacred ways of the peace women. I pray that you will open your hearts to one another, and will show the bright path to your people as well. These peace strings will give you strength, and they will be clear signs to all of your good intent.”
She placed the two long strands in Sisketung’s hand, and asked her to present one of them to Sarah. Sisketung paced back up the footpath and motioned to Sarah to open her hand. She ceremonially placed a pure white strand on the girl’s half-clenched palm.
Sarah stared at it without moving. “This is what you call wampum, ain’t it. But what’s the hag saying to us? What does she want, anyway?”
“Is for you. Means peace, Sarah. Wants peace. You. Me. All.” Sisketung raised her face toward the treetops and swept an outstretched arm in a wide arc to encompass Teaoga and beyond. “Peace. You. Me.
When she lowered her gaze again, Sarah was gone. The girl had turned and was trotting off toward her brother. At Sisketung’s feet lay the coiled wampum string. Sarah had hurled it into the dirt.
Excerpt 2 (from Chapter 14) has the reader sitting quietly with our modern protagonist, middle- schooler Maddy Winter, at an outdoor spot she’s been told has special spiritual force. Her mind wanders over her day as a junior camp counselor.
Light thoughts loped across Maddy’s mindscape like bunnies. She pictured her campers, and little Lucy’s tears about the twig wigwam that Jason had crushed with bratty delight that morning. A bead of sweat slid down her spine beneath her tangerine tee. The dead air was oppressive. Her inner eye saw turkey vultures rising on the heat. She imagined the coolness of the river current. It must be a gazillion degrees back home. Her thoughts turned to Houston and her gal-pal Melody. On a sweltering day like today they’d probably be hanging in her air-conditioned great room. She pictured them making fun of some TV rerun, chugging iced tea, teasing Tiara the cat, practicing their funky dance moves as the Supersonic M&M Sisters.
I haven’t contacted Mel for a few days. Some pal I am. But it’s okay. I’m sure she’s finding stuff to do. I’ll see her soon enough. Wow, only five more days here. I’ve been in another world.
The free-floating thoughts were interrupted by a fly landing on her forehead. Next it tickled her ear. Eyes still closed, she reached lazily to brush the insect off.
She swatted – and felt her breath taken away.
Her upper body was suddenly rising, pulled forward by a gentle force. In the pink world behind her eyelids she was aware of being stretched and lifted in a long arc above the tall grass. It was as though she were made of taffy.
From the wooded trough below, an elongated being reached out and grasped her outstretched hands. A young Indian woman – no, a girl, about her age -- ephemeral like smoke, floating gracefully, drew Maddy upwards in a swaying dance.
Yielding to the spirit-girl’s soft smile, Maddy was bathed in contentment. She felt herself floating overhead, filled with warmth, fingers entwined with the spirit. Like two halves of an undulating rainbow, they stretched together towards the treetops. She perceived campfires down below, and women’s chant-song. The spirit-girl circled her directly above the high grass, revolving over and over, wordlessly conveying that there, along the ridgeline, lay a source of abiding strength for her.
Then the spirit lowered Maddy back into her sitting body, withdrew toward the trees, and evaporated. The aura of peacefulness remained. Unwilling to open her eyes or let go of the sweet sense of motion,
Maddy swayed in place, humming dreamily. Flies circled her head. She was aware again of their buzzing, and of the sticky heat. But far more than that, she felt bliss and a calm inner strength she was certain the spirit had imparted. She smiled in gratitude. The spirit-girl had a message for me. What was it? I sensed sadness but also encouragement. Hope, I think, and peace, and strength. Why did she pick me?