Published September 2009 by Knopf Doubleday
Source: the publisher
Across The Endless River is the story of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacagewea and a French fur trader. Baptiste (as he preferred to be called) went with the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific Ocean as an infant and grew up in two cultures. Through much of his life, Baptiste split time between the Mandan tribe his mother was a part of and St. Louis, where he got a traditional education and was cared for by his godfather, Captain Clark. Even as a young man, he became well known for his skill with languages (in addition to English and French, Baptiste was skilled in several Native American languages as well), knowledge of the western lands and people, and his ability to live in the wild. Because of these skills, Baptiste was introduced to Duke Paul of Wurttemburg (Germany) and asked to help the Duke collect Native American artifacts and native plants and animals. Impressed with the young man, the Duke asked Baptiste to accompany him back to Europe to help catalogue his acquisitions, prepare them for exhibition and write a book.
Baptiste spent the next five years in Europe, spending time in France and Germany, meeting people from all walks of life, working with the duke and his peers, attending balls, and falling in love. While he enjoyed the benefits of living with nobility and finding himself accepted by them, it was always clear to Baptiste that he was not one of them. Neither was he one of the servant class, a fact also made clear to him.
Across The Endless River is one of the first books I was offered for review when I began blogging. I accepted it because much of the early story was set in my part of the country and because I enjoy historical fiction. For some reason, once it arrived, though, it never seemed to call to me. In the past few months I've been accepting far fewer books for review in an effort to clear up my previous commitments and this one finally made its way into my hands.
There were parts of this book that very much impressed me. Carhart does a wonderful job of taking historical fact and mixing it with historical fiction and has a way with description that really made me see the places, people and things he was writing about. Ultimately, though, the book feel flat for me. Much of the first part of the book felt like a buildup to the second part but once Baptiste and the Duke arrived in Europe, it felt like very little was actually happening. The pair would flit from place to place and periodically Carhart would stop and spend a great deal of time writing about a particular scene but often these scenes didn't seem to contribute to building the story for me. Carhart touched on some topics I would have liked to see him spend more time with and I couldn't help but wonder if a different editor might have been able to keep the book on a track that would have worked better for me.