STARRED REVIEW
February 19, 2019

Cherokee America

By Margaret Verble

With a title like Cherokee America, one might expect to read a grand, sweeping epic in the vein of Dances with Wolves or Gone with the Wind. And in the hands of Margaret Verble, who previously penned the Pulitzer Prize finalist Maud’s Line, such expectations certainly make sense. But while Verble delivers an impressive, historical saga of Native American life in the mid-19th century, it comes on a much more intimate and narrower scale.

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With a title like Cherokee America, one might expect to read a grand, sweeping epic in the vein of Dances with Wolves or Gone with the Wind. And in the hands of Margaret Verble, who previously penned the Pulitzer Prize finalist Maud’s Line, such expectations certainly make sense. But while Verble delivers an impressive, historical saga of Native American life in the mid-19th century, it comes on a much more intimate and narrower scale.

Set shortly after the Civil War in 1875, the novel revolves around Check Singer and her journey from Tennessee to Cherokee land in Oklahoma. The story also follows her extensive family, including her ailing, bedridden husband, Andrew, and their five children—Connell, Hugh, Clifford, Otter and Paul, ranging from school-aged to grown up—as well as their hired help, assorted friends and neighbors. Check’s mission throughout is simply getting through the day with only a modicum of trouble, but with the ready admission that “trouble breeds trouble.”

Trouble, of course, arrives right away when one of the hired hands on her sprawling potato farm, a black man named Puny, learns he is the father of a child through an illicit affair. The child is born “bad sick” and doesn’t have long to live when Check brings it to Puny. The child, after its death, is buried in a potato farm in an attempt to keep it hidden from Puny’s wife, Ezell, a secret that doesn’t last very long.

Puny and one of Check’s boys, Hugh, get into further trouble later at a brothel where Hugh is shot in the leg, prompting an investigation by the sheriff. At the same time, rumors surface of buried Confederate gold somewhere on the property, while racial tensions escalate between the black, white and native peoples in the community. Check balances it all without ever losing her control, providing calm, wisdom and discipline in the face of cultural, societal and physical hurdles.

Cherokee America meanders quite a bit due to its impressive cast and multiple storylines, taking its time to explore each’s feelings and tribulations, but Verble keeps Check at its grounded center. Readers shouldn’t expect to fly through these pages at breakneck speed, but rather enjoy a more leisurely pace that will leave them wholly immersed in Check’s world.

 

Editor’s note: A previous version of this review incorrectly described Puny as burying the baby in the potato farm. 

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Cherokee America

Cherokee America

By Margaret Verble
HMH
ISBN 9781328494221

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