Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America by Amy Belding Brown
Flight of the Sparrow
A fictional novelization of an actual character, Amy Belding Brown brings us the story of Mary Rowlandson, a pre-revolutionary war settler in the Massachusetts Puritan settlement of Lancaster. Not only were these settlers struggling to maintain life, but within a rather inflexible social structure: one that viewed the Native Americans as savages, and often reacted to them with hostility and encroachment. During the time of the story, the English troops are embroiled in repeated ongoing campaigns against the Natives, in what is known as King Phillip’s War, a three year series of ever-increasing violent clashes between the settlers, British and the Native Americans, led by Metacomet, a Wampanoag tribe member. Frustrated with the increasing encroachment by settlers, and the dismissive if not outright disregard of his people, hostilities increased with regular raids, attacks and fairly frequent hostage taking.
Mary and her three children were taken during one of these raids when her husband, a minister was away. Thus began her three months of captivity, including the loss of her sister, daughter and rigid adherence to the laws and rules of faith she has believed are the hallmarks of a good Puritan woman. Those facts are necessary background for readers coming to this story: a quick refresher-course in the basic outline that forms the structure around which the author has crafted this novel.
Told in third person present, the initial chapters of the story are slow: full of information and a need to adjust to the narration style of the story, while giving readers some sense of the community. Understand that life, death and conflict are all harsh, especially viewed from modern eyes, and Belding Brown does not hold back on description: life isn’t always pretty, and she does remind us of the human costs in this time, building imagery, tension and visual references that are often sanitized and cleaned up in history.
What we get from the story, as it picks up, is the progression of Mary: kindnesses showed her despite the captivity by James Printer, a Nipmuck that was educated at the Indian Charity school in Cambridge. His balance between the two worlds, and his awareness of the traditional ways gives Mary a sounding-board, to answer questions, to converse, and lastly to bring her to consider a haven with him: where the freedoms unfamiliar in her old life are available. Mary’s growing pains as she comes to admire the Native way of life and worship, that encompasses a far wider circle than her narrowed view of structured prayer, laws and rigid adherence to both presents her with possibilities that she never could, or would have dreamed possible. This is truly the story of her journey: informed by fact yet reimagined by the author.
Characters in this story are varied and distinct: Mary is solidly portrayed with the exception of a few changes after her release that were far too publicly dramatic, even after her ordeal. I don’t feel that her husband was ever anything more than a rigidly pontificating man, while Puritans were a very tightly strung bunch, the development of his character skewed more caricature than human. John Printer, as well as the other Native Americans were given solid development: their losses and concerns as well as life at the time was well-presented, and while one had to feel for Mary in al that would change for her in her return, sympathies are solidly in the corner of the natives who lost all but memories of a life lived by their own rules after the loss of the war.
Narration is provided by Heather Henderson, and she presents characters and the story clearly and cleanly: small adjustments to tone and pacing throughout the production present the character changes without distraction. Nuanced with the emotional underlayment of the text, never over-reaching or overemphasizing single points to the detriment of the story.
While not perfect, this story is a wonderful depiction of the growth of Mary as she learns to acknowledge and even honor those who are different and “savage”, and depicts with heart the dramatic losses sustained by the Native American population of the time, and future, as a result of the colonization.
Stars: Overall: 4 Narration 4 Story 4
Title: Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America
Author: Amy Belding Brown
Genre: Historical Fiction
Narrator: Heather Henderson
Published by: Blackstone Audio
Published on: 1 July 2014
Source: AudioBook Jukebox
Audio Length: 11 Hours
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About the Book:
She suspects that she has changed too much to ever fit easily into English society again. The wilderness has now become her home. She can interpret the cries of birds. She has seen vistas that have stolen away her breath. She has learned to live in a new, free way....
Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1676. Even before Mary Rowlandson is captured by Indians on a winter day of violence and terror, she sometimes found herself in conflict with her rigid Puritan community. Now, her home destroyed, her children lost to her, she has been sold into the service of a powerful woman tribal leader, made a pawn in the on-going bloody struggle between English settlers and native people. Battling cold, hunger, and exhaustion, Mary witnesses harrowing brutality but also unexpected kindness. To her confused surprise, she is drawn to her captors’ open and straightforward way of life, a feeling further complicated by her attraction to a generous, protective English-speaking native known as James Printer. All her life, Mary has been taught to fear God, submit to her husband, and abhor Indians. Now, having lived on the other side of the forest, she begins to question the edicts that have guided her, torn between the life she knew and the wisdom the natives have shown her.
Based on the compelling true narrative of Mary Rowlandson, Flight of the Sparrow is an evocative tale that transports the reader to a little-known time in early America and explores the real meaning of freedom, faith, and acceptance.
A copy of this title was provided via AudioBook Jukebox for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.