This Tender Land by William Kent Kruger, is the best book I’ve read in years. I couldn’t put it down. It felt like a Mark Twain or John Steinbeck type of book, covering the depression era and following four kids on an epic journey. The book is so beautifully written, that I now have to go read some of Kruger’s other books. I highly recommend this book, take the journey, fall in love with the four kids, Albert, Odie, Emmy, and Mose, and prepare to have your emotions jerked all over the place.
The book starts out in a fictional institution called the Lincoln Indian Training School, and it’s based on the history of our nation’s treatment of Native Americans. This is a history that I never learned about in school and it “is one of the saddest litanies of human cruelty imaginable. Among the many attempts at cultural genocide was a horribly ill-conceived program of off-reservation boarding schools initiated by Richard Henry Pratt, who famously declared that its purpose was to “Kill the Indian, save the man.” Beginning in the 1870s and continuing until the mid-twentieth century, hundreds of thousands of Native children were forcibly removed from their families and sent to live in boarding schools far from their reservation homes. In 1925, more than 60,000 children were being housed in 357 of these institutions in thirty states. Life in an Indian boarding school wasn’t just harsh, it was soul-crushing. Children were stripped of their native clothing, hair, and personal belongings. They were punished for speaking their native language. They were emotionally, physically, and sexually abused. Although touted as a way to assimilate children into the white culture and teach them a productive trade, in truth, many of these schools functioned as a pipeline for free labor, offering up the children as field hands or domestic help for local citizens.”
So yes, your heart will hurt, your emotions will boil, and you will root for and fall in love with the four children on their arduous journey.
Here’s a taste of what’s to come:
“The tale I’m going to tell is of a summer-long ago. Of killing and kidnapping and children pursued by demons of a thousand names. There will be courage in this story and cowardice. There will be love and betrayal. And, of course, there will be hope. In the end, isn’t that what every good story is about?”
I was especially impressed with Kruger’s handling of spirituality. I believe both religious and non-religious people will be pleased with how he handled it. Here’s a beautiful example and my absolute favorite quote from the book:
“THERE IS A river that runs through time and the universe, vast and inexplicable, a flow of spirit that is at the heart of all existence, and every molecule of our being is a part of it. And what is God but the whole of that river? When I look back at the summer of 1932, I see a boy not quite thirteen doing his best to pin down God, to corral that river and give it a form he could understand. Like so many before him, he shaped it, and reshaped it, and shaped it again, and yet it continued to defy all his logic. I would love to be able to call out to him and tell him in a kindly way that reason will do him no good, that it’s pointless to rail about the difficulty of the twists in that river, and that he shouldn’t worry about where the current will take him, but I confess that . . . I still struggle to understand what I know in my heart is a mystery beyond human comprehension. Perhaps the most important truth I’ve learned across the whole of my life is that it’s only when I yield to the river and embrace the journey that I find peace.”
Seriously, run do not walk, to your nearest local bookstore and grab this book. After reading it, you can come back to this page and thank me.
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