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Review: One Thousand White Women

September 10, 2013

One Thousand White Women

In 1874, the Cheyennes proposed trading the US government horses for one thousand white women.  Their chief said,

My duty is to see that my People survive.  To do this we must enter the white man’s world – our children must become members of your tribe.  Therefore we ask the Great Father for the gift of one thousand white women as wives, to teach us and our children the new life that must be lived when the buffalo are gone.

Of course, the government rejected the offer but were shocked when women volunteered to go.  Many of the women, like May Dodd, who volunteered were trying to get out of bad situations.  May’s family had committed her to an asylum – she planned to spend the required two years with the Cheyennes and then return home.  As May and the other women in the first group begin their journey, she keeps a journal of her experiences as a record to share with her children.

I read One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus for my book club.  I have to admit that the premise of the book didn’t grab me initially.  The book started out slowly for me, picked up speed in the middle, and dragged at the end.  Overall, I thought the book was okay, but I didn’t love it.  Even though the subtitle calls the book May’s journal, it didn’t read like a journal to me since there is very little emotion and lots of dialogue in the entries.  The characters weren’t well developed and many of them felt like caricatures or stereotypes.  May felt like a modern day woman plopped down in the 19th century and she came across as unbelievably perfect to me.

I did enjoy the insight into the life of the Cheyenne people and appreciated the respectful tone Fergus used when writing about them.  I learned a lot about their lives and the way the white people treated them.  I admit I cringed at the actions of many of the white people.

When my book club met, most people felt the same way I did about One Thousand White Women, but two people did love it.  Having said that, I think we had one of the best discussions we’ve ever had – we spent quite a while discussing this book.  The one thing we all agreed on was that, even though the book is told from May’s point of view, it felt like it was written by a man.

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32 Comments leave one →
  1. September 10, 2013 5:37 am

    It really is an interesting premise, isn’t it. I have read nothing about the Cheyenne, and I like that aspect of it. Still, a woman’s journal written by a man doesn’t sound too promising. I will probably wait on this one.

  2. September 10, 2013 5:44 am

    How interesting that the book generated a good discussion. I was so curious about this one because I liked the premise. Now I think I’ll likely pass on reading it.

  3. sandynawrot permalink
    September 10, 2013 6:30 am

    It is funny because our book club had a heated discussion about this book, AND WE DIDN’T EVEN READ IT!!! Quite a few have though, and while I have not, I have it on my shelves and have heard enough about it. The problem I have (if my facts are correct) is that the book acts like this is a piece of history, and it actually is not. Small pieces of it are factual, but most is a figment of the author’s imagination. This always trips me up. If I pick up historical fiction, I trust that it is based on something real! Needless to say I have yet to pick it up.

  4. September 10, 2013 6:47 am

    I always felt like I should read this book, but after my Michael Dorris book, I don’t think I could read this one now.

  5. September 10, 2013 7:22 am

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Too bad it dragged at the end.

  6. September 10, 2013 8:42 am

    I always think books everyone doesn’t love work better for book clubs!

  7. September 10, 2013 9:15 am

    I read this book years ago, but it seems to be having a resurgence among books clubs. I like the new cover.

  8. September 10, 2013 9:37 am

    Your take on this book was identical to mine. Story was a bit lacking but the author did a great job of showing life among the Cheyenne. Reminded me in parts of THE SON.

  9. talesofwhimsy permalink
    September 10, 2013 10:33 am

    Bummer. The premise is fascinating.

  10. September 10, 2013 10:36 am

    I have to admit I’ve never had a desire to read this book. I’m glad it was a good discussion, but I’ll continue to pass on this one.

  11. September 10, 2013 11:01 am

    Too bad this one didn’t live up to the excellent premise.

  12. Patty permalink
    September 10, 2013 12:15 pm

    How cool to have such animated discussions!

  13. September 10, 2013 1:09 pm

    I’ve had a copy of this on my shelves for years. My stepmom (who shares my taste in books) loved it. Now I’m torn!

  14. September 10, 2013 1:37 pm

    This sounds like a an excellent choice for book clubs! Another terrific review, Kathy!

  15. bookingmama permalink
    September 10, 2013 1:48 pm

    My book club loved this book. I had an issue with it because I thought it sounded like it was written by a man, not a woman. If that makes sense?

  16. September 10, 2013 3:09 pm

    It’s hard to imagine a man writing a woman’s journal. Sorry you didn’t love it, the story line sounds interesting enough.

  17. September 10, 2013 7:31 pm

    Sounds like this book could have achieved a lot more – it’s a very compelling incident. It’s a pity that the book was not too engaging.

  18. September 10, 2013 8:12 pm

    I’ve never heard of this. It sounds really interesting, but too bad it wasn’t better executed.

  19. September 10, 2013 8:58 pm

    I read this with my book club several years ago and we had a great discussion, too. The details have faded but I remember that I liked the book and thought it read like it was written by a man, lol!

  20. September 10, 2013 10:40 pm

    I’ve never heard about this but it sounds fascinating! Too bad the book wasn’t more engaging.

  21. September 11, 2013 12:09 am

    Great review. I love the premise, but the pacing may be a deal breaker for me.

  22. September 11, 2013 10:13 am

    Aww, sorry you didn’t like this one better! I think I may have an issue with the pacing as well.

  23. September 11, 2013 10:34 am

    I liked this book, and commented particularly that I thought he did the female voice well (http://necromancyneverpays.blogspot.com/2011/04/one-thousand-white-women.html)

  24. September 11, 2013 12:55 pm

    Thanks for posting this review. Several people have recommended this book to me, but the premise doesn’t grab me either. However, I do like a book that generates discussion for my book club, and may at least suggest it. I’ll refer the members here!

  25. Tracy G permalink
    September 11, 2013 2:44 pm

    I read this book a couple years ago and what you have written about it is exactly how I felt about it. Interesting premise that was never fully developed.

  26. September 11, 2013 7:17 pm

    I like that a book most of you didn’t enjoy created one of the best discussions you’ve had.

  27. September 11, 2013 11:40 pm

    Haven’t come across this book before. Interesting premise, and it’s always good to find book club books that inspire conversation.

  28. September 12, 2013 2:07 am

    I’ve tried and tried to listen to this one but it drags for me as well. I think you hit the nail on the head when you mention not enough development and more dialogue. Great y’all had a good discussion though!!!

  29. September 12, 2013 10:57 am

    I had the same opinion about the writing: it was obviously written by a man! With so many women pregnant at the same time, it’s very unbelievable none of them had any complications or sickness. May’s moral grey area seems rather suspect to me as well.
    I was a fan of the book, overall. The dialogue and lapse from normal diary-styling didn’t bother me going through it. What a wonderful book club choice, I hope you had a great meeting.

  30. September 12, 2013 10:43 pm

    I hate when books that are from the viewpoint of a woman sound like a man.
    Most books I read about the Native American experience make me so angry and sad that I tend to avoid them.

  31. September 13, 2013 9:56 am

    Thanks for your great review. I can imagine this idea would spark a good book club discussion.

  32. September 15, 2013 5:04 pm

    This was on my list of Best Reads of 2004! I loved it! Sorry it wasn’t a great read for you.

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