On The Plus Side

Jan 3, 2015 | 1 comment

Published by HarperCollins, 2014

Published by HarperCollins, 2014

There are two items in particular that I doubt it’s possible to ‘catch up on.’ Those would be reading and sleeping. But I am here to report that these last few days I’ve been trying mightily to do both. When you have one of these weepy, hacking, miserable colds, there isn’t much else to do.

Just as I took to my bed, we got notice that Peter Stark’s new book Astoria had arrived at the library and Nyel, bless his heart, picked it up for me ‘toot sweet,’ as they say. I had heard Author Stark talk about it on KMUN and was curious. One of the points he made was that the beginnings of Astoria is an under-told and mostly unknown story. I found that hard to believe but, even if true, it seems to me that the KMUN audience is the wrong one to tell that to. I went right to the computer and ordered the book to find out what I didn’t know. (In retrospect, maybe Mr. Stark’s ploy worked very well.)

I found the book very readable, full of interesting information – especially regarding the personalities of Astor’s chosen leaders for his venture and the incredible difficulties involved in getting here in 1811. The facts appear to be well-documented (there is a 57-page appendix of acknowledgements and notes) and the descriptions of both the overland and seagoing journeys are actually quite gripping.

Fort Astoria, 1813

Fort Astoria, 1813

I have to say, though that I did question a couple of things. His lengthy explanation of hypothermia in the waters of the Pacific just outside the Columbia Bar did not jibe with what I’ve always understood. He says, After roughly two hours in the water, when the body’s core temperature falls to 86 degrees, the subject typically loses consciousness. At this point the victim usually drowns. His description concludes: After four hours in water this cold the victim is almost surely dead. However, I told myself, fact-checking that sort of information is easy; surely he did so. And I did, myself. I can only conclude that Stark is generous with his time frame…

And what about Stark’s identification of the Indian interpreter, Joseachal, who witnessed the explosion of Astor’s ship, the Tonquin. Not too many months ago I had heard a lecture about that very event and the Indian interpreter had been identified as “Jack Ramsay.” I did a little sleuthing and found that there is historic confusion on this point. In fact, according to an internet site called “PIONEERS, Early Census Records” several possibilities exist: JOSEACHAL or KASIACALL 1811: called LAMAZU by other (non-Quinault) tribes; confounded with RAMSAY (a half-British Chehalis called Lamosoi or Lamazee). I think I would have been happier with Stark’s presentation had he made reference, even in his appendix, to these possibilities.

Unfortunately, when one or two questionable bits of information surface in a historic work, the entire presentation becomes questionable – at least to me. Yet, I am sympathetic. Every writer I know lives in dread of factual errors. I have certainly had my share and they always seem to leap out at the moment of publication.

Bottom line: Do I recommend the book? Yes, but I’d sure like to hear some other local opinions about it. The reviews from Kirkus, the Chicago Tribune and other lofty sources all give it high marks. So, I suspect I’m just being picky…

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Frieze

    Dave gave me the book for Christmas so I’ll have to get busy and read it!

    Reply

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