Author: Diana Davidson
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Author (Paperback)
Pilgrimage opens in the deep winter of 1891 on the Métis settlement of Lac St. Anne. Known as Manito Sakahigan in Cree, “Spirit Lake” has been renamed for the patron saint of childbirth. It is here that people journey in search of tradition, redemption, and miracles.
On this harsh and beautiful land, four interconnected people try to make a life in the colonial Northwest: Mahkesîs Cardinal, a young Métis girl pregnant by the Hudson Bay Company manager; Moira Murphy, an Irish Catholic house girl working for the Barretts; Georgina Barrett, the Anglo-Irish wife of the hbc manager who wishes for a child; and Gabriel Cardinal, Mahkesîs’ brother, who works on the Athabasca river and falls in love with Moira. Intertwined by family, desire, secrets, and violence, the characters live one tumultuous year on the Lac St. Anne settlement—a year that ends with a woman’s body abandoned in a well.
Set in a brilliant northern landscape, Pilgrimage is a moving debut novel about journeys, and women and men trying to survive the violent intimacy of a small place where two cultures intersect.
Thank you to Diana Davidson for sending me a copy of this book for review!
As I write this review, I’m currenly nine months pregnant, waiting for the birth of Baby Reading In Winter. In the past few months I seem to have been drawn to books that have pregnant characters or that revolve around pregnancy. Coincidence? Probably, though some of these books can be quite graphic and quite sad, though even in their beauty, I find that I’m drawn even more to stories like this, rather than finding myself getting scared from reading them.
Ever since I started to really look into local authors and what they were producing, Diana Davidson was high on my list. I loved the cover of Pilgrimage and loved the synopsis even more. There’s something about a local artist writing about history that is so close to home that is very appealing to me. Really, I just love hearing of the places I know (like Edmonton! Fort Chippewan! Jasper! Vancouver!), knowing that I could place them on a map without hesitation. With Pilgrimage, there’s a lot of talk about the weather as well, which is something most Albertans are definitely familiar with.
The story is a beautiful story. It’s also very sad. In fact, I don’t think I was too prepared for how sad the story would be (even after reading a short story by Davidson in the 40 Below anthology that pretty much ripped my heart out) and I kept saying to myself “10 more pages, okay … another 10 pages” until I finished the book. The characters were developed well and I found myself latching onto certain ones, desperate to hear their story. Other characters drove me nuts, but were definitely a product of their time. The book deals with race, class, and status and I found that Davidson did a great job of showing all of these things in her writing.
When it came to characters, I was mostly in love with the stories of Moira and Makhesis. Moira came to Alberta with the Barretts from Ireland and Makhesis is a “half-breed” as described by Georgina Barrett (the one character I found myself loathing throughout the book). Both were so different, but had great similarity in how they were treated. I just couldn’t get enough of their stories! Davidson completely drew me in with her writing, with these two women who were seeking love and acceptance. But most importantly, this book deals a lot with fertility and how women really had no control over how fertile they were, or who actually impregnated them. This was the sad thing about the classes of this society — especially when compared to what we have available today.
It was actually quite interesting reading the author’s note at the end of the story of where Davidson’s inspiration came from. I love how a news story led her to research the history of the this part of the country and its people from a century ago.
While this book was a wonderful read, I found myself slightly detached at times, maybe because a lot of the book doesn’t deal with driving actions or dialogue, but we’re inside of the characters heads a LOT more. I don’t usually mind a lot of internal (for lack of a better word) stuff going on, but it does make the story read at a bit of a slower pace and I found myself wanting to SEE more action rather than being told of what was going on.
Regardless, this really was a book I was happy to have read — even if it hit a little close to home with some of the pregnancy and birthing events, not to mention the way that the people of this province used to be treated. It was hard not to think about that time period and want to know more about it — maybe one day I can delve a little deeper than the history I learned in school. At any rate, I’m interested to see what else Diana Davidson comes up with in the future. She really has a true talent!