Author Gloria Zachgo is so kindly gifting a FREE COPY of Never Waste Tears to one lucky winner. For your chance to win, simply comment below or at the link provided at review’s end.
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Never Waste Tears by Gloria Zachgo
Never Waste Tears opens in 1861 with news of Fort Sumter spreading through town on the same day Nathaniel Carter turns 13. In almost no time the American Civil War is upon the families and even those who don’t go off to fight are adversely affected long before their loved ones return—some in boxes—as well as upon re-unification.
Through Nathaniel and other characters, author Gloria Zachgo speaks to readers of this time, utilizing diary entries that also enable individuals to recount events as they see them unfold. At first Nathaniel and a local girl, Rebecca, speak of their experiences, and their diaries take us very quickly through to 1868, when we start to witness people beginning westward journeys in pursuit of the promises of homesteading the land.
As Americans are wont to do, the people look especially to the future for healing, often found in the privilege of hard work, the bounties of which they can in turn gift to those yet to come.
It is with this mentality and the promise of land that would be ceded to them after five years of successfully working it that five individuals, some of whose diaries enter the story later, commence along with others what had to have been a heartbreaking beginning to even a promising new life, many of them knowing they likely would never see their families again.
Journal entries is a particularly clever technique for this book because as the story begins to cover more terrain, events occur that crisscross with each other in the same ways as do the trails settlers cross, consider, return and flee from, creating pathways and perspectives unique to each character. We see events strictly through their eyes, even when we know additional bits as experienced and related in others’ journals. It’s a bit like being a fly on the wall—a much bigger wall, of course—and demonstrates that even listening in is no easy task, considering all we are given to know.
When the war finally ended I didn’t go home right away. Instead I fulfilled a promise to the boy from Kansas who saved my life and gave up his own. He stepped in front of a bullet that was meant for me. I killed the man who shot him. And then I held that boy in my arms whilst he took a while to die.
I didn’t go home. I couldn’t. I wandered instead…One day I come upon this little creek in the middle of nowhere…The rattlin’ in my head stopped and I no longer smelled the stench of death in ever’ thing. I heard a meadowlark’s sweet melody…Some kind of miracle happened to me in that place.
Zachgo’s characters speak in a manner that, while not especially peculiar to that time, at least not in its entirety, lends flavor to reader understanding of their background and social class. Speech patterns evident in such phrases as “She’d growed to love my family” and “I knowed how much she loved me” are given just enough mileage to win readers rather than alienate them. The author successfully balances the sincerity of their speech without leaning too heavily on it.
Language utilized also tends to be of a stark nature, reflecting, as language often does, the environment, though the diaries show it is as valued as the sound of a harmonica played after supper, companionship and love of animals or the view of a heartbreakingly beautiful sunset. Its role at times is utilitarian, but links the characters in connections they form with words from their hearts.
Besides, Zachgo doesn’t need to overuse dialect, given the depth of insight we are given to the actual character of various personalities. Moreover, on occasion we forget we are reading journals as we fall into events relayed via actions, events and dialogue as well as introspection. The characters’ passions burn bright in all they say and Zachgo keeps us hooked as we continue turning the pages to see what becomes of this or that situation. In many instances, the reading is not unlike being witness to an ongoing narrative being relayed as your eyes dart from one speaker to the next, then back to the first and so on.
[Homestead deed as written out in 1868 image to be replaced]
As the time for departure inches closer, we learn more of the fear extant in the hearts and minds of the people as they embark on and move through their journeys. For Nathaniel and many others, this new start is the only option for creating something different, and the yearning for it remains even after lengthy and repeated introspection. However, the unspeakable difficulty of what lay ahead links to past lessons learned reflected in the title’s directive about never wasting tears.
Because settlers have to reach so far down inside of themselves to muster every ounce of courage, strength and fortitude they possess, tears are viewed simultaneously as too extraneous and precious a use of energy to squander. Other duties and activities need the resource far more.
The loneliness and deprivation, backbreaking labor, fear, constant threat of Indian attacks and unsettling nature of not knowing what may come next requires a great deal more than some understand when they set out, and Zachgo demonstrates their discovery of this with a slowly-emerging awareness the characters handle with varying degrees of ability—or none at all. It is, after all, a novel filled with conflict of individuals with themselves, others and nature, much more than most human beings could go up against in one lifetime.
Set in post-Civil War America as it is, this particular war extra notorious for having literally engaged brother against brother, Zachgo’s characters search not only for something to call their own on those homesteads, but also the elusive unity Americans so desperately need at this painful time. Again we see this reflected in the language as people refer to themselves in a manner indicative of how they behave toward one another.
Separations abound and in order to make it in this harsh environment, unity has to permeate every angle of their lives, but with understanding of what divisions are useful and necessary, in contrast to today’s supposed ideal that in order for all things to be equal they must be exactly the same. Zachgo introduces what I find to be a more genuine feminism, one that recognizes the reality of women’s overall lesser physical strength, without removing the possibility that they can still contribute to the rich growth of a productive society.
She stopped to catch her breath. I was immediately sorry and a whole lot confused. I started to open my mouth, but she wasn’t finished with me just yet.
“Let’s get one thing straight betwixt us. I can do some things myself and I don’t need you to tell me I can’t. If I have to dig the whole well myself, I will find a way to do it. It may take me a lot longer than you men-folk, but I can do it.” When she stopped for another deep breath, I took the opportunity to hold up my hands in surrender.
Later, following a conversation between Nathan and his wife, he writes, “How good it was to hear the word ‘us’ in her words.”
Never Waste Tears is a story of true discovery of one’s self and others, and what that brings to the relationships previously conflicted. The characters learn what they must make room for in their lives in order to survive, though too often at such great cost they sometimes wonder of its worth.
For readers of today, the worth is everywhere in their stories, including the understanding that despite progress and advancements in society since this era, they do have something to tell us about how we relate to each other, as well as them. It is also an examination of language in which they—and we—see that not all words are created equal and the adaptation isn’t quite as straightforward as many of us may believe.
I also appreciated Zachgo’s inclusion of perspectives that consider the Native population without finger pointing, as well as a representative character who moves around a lot, not only for his job in aiding and guiding settlers, but also because this is his nature. I would have liked to get to know Skinner a bit more, as it seems he would have had a wealth of tales from a wide variety of sources and perspectives. Perhaps this can lead to opening for a sequel, or at least a companion book with some or all of these characters.
A fascinating, poignant and crucial witness to the lives of those who dared to dream, Never Waste Tears is a must read for the collection of any student of American history, those curious as to what it was like to move west, or anyone looking for a rewarding and timeless read. The homesteaders’ stories will settle within and make any reader richer for the experience.
After raising two children and selling her home-based business, Gloria Zachgo discovered her artistic talents. When the walls of her home grew heavy with her eclectic drawings and paintings she found she also had a flair for writing fictional stories. One of those stories developed into her debut novel, The Rocking Horse, which received honorable mention at the 20th annual Self-Published Book Awards winners.
Zachgo published her second novel, Never Waste Tears, in December of 2014. It was selected as an indie B.R.A.G (Book Readers Appreciation Group) Medallion honoree.
She lives with her husband, Ron, in Kansas, where she is currently working on another novel.
For your chance to win a FREE COPY of Never Waste Tears, simply comment below or at this blog’s Facebook page, located here.
The reviewer was provided with a free copy of Never Waste Tears in exchange for an honest review.
This post was updated to include a link to author interview.