Tales From a Revolution: Rhode-Island
by Lars D.H. Hedbor
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While American awareness of the French role played in the Revolution that won us our freedom is generally high, few encounter an opportunity to meet up with individual stories from the French perspective. With The Path, eighth in Lars D. H. Hedbor’s Tales From a Revolution series, we encounter Yves de Bourganes as he sets out to earn his widowed mother some much-needed money—and a little adventure wouldn’t hurt.
Not unlike the manner in which he approaches The Wind, wherein we see post-division Florida from the Spaniard Gabriel’s point of view, Hedbor again widens the scope as the novel opens to the young Frenchman contemplating possible duty near American shores, trouncing the English and the prospect of his nation and the Americans as allies, after having fought bitterly only several years before.
To his mother, this would be no surprise; she well understands the fickle ways of war. Her greatest fear is with his station in such a distant theater, and the likelihood of seeing her child again. He shares her concern, but works to remain optimistic, soon after engaging in that time-tested military routine of “hurry up and wait.”
The transition between opening scenes, in which Yves breaks the news to his mother and later, camps out and then anchors in Brest, is well chosen and executed. Hedbor’s choice of allowing Yves’s home scenes to remain preliminary is spot on: while important to help round out the boy’s character and background, it wouldn’t have been necessary to tell or even show readers, including the young adult audience the novel is aimed at, a departing scene between a frightened mother and her son. They already know this will happen, and her dialogue and actions—
… she wiped [the tears] away angrily …
She gave him a grudging smile.
She fixed him with a piercing glare. “Mind that you do, Yves.”
She nodded crisply.
—reveal her character, humor and strength in a degree commensurate with her role in the narrative.
When his mother and all her sons share one last meal together and the next chapter opens with Yves already in camp, at table with his friend Luc, Hedbor again cannily utilizes food, once more playing a central role in the passage, to correlate the scenes. The boys’ conversation also focuses on food, a uniter of people as well as common concern onboard any ship. Their exchange is so smooth, natural and authentic one might be forgiven for wondering if Hedbor had transcribed a previous recording he’d gathered.
In Newport, Rhode Island, Yves comes into contact with a merchant, via their mutual equestrian interest, and a female slave, Amalie, under the horse seller’s charge. It is the Frenchman’s first personal encounter with the vile institution, and he has a difficult time letting the meeting pass. Soon, the path Yves has chosen, already entangled by his involvement in someone else’s war, becomes even less clear, and brings unexpected circumstance and choices into his life.
As has been his habit, Hedbor writes a superb tale, wonderfully examining events via the perspectives of ordinary people, those who most definitely preceded us, but whose voice is either buried deep in time or completely lost. While fictional, the novel paints absolutely realistic portraits of our counterparts, with words creating marvelous brushstrokes that capture the feel, nuance, attitudes, occupations, sights and scents—and so much more—of the day. The thrill of a dice game; rustle of dry, waist-high grass; the tidy streets of a town even after warfare and meeting with Quakers in the colony (linking us also to another Hedbor tale, The Light), as well as Natives in the area (a special link to The Smoke).
I also love reading Hedbor’s historical notes, and those in The Path were no exception. While not difficult to guess that Yves’s place in travel was based on Rochambeau’s journey with his Expedition Particulalière, codename for the French forces sent to take part in the American Revolution, I had no idea of journals kept by French military personnel. Therefore I knew not of their opinions, apart from that they must not have been very affectionate regarding the practice of slavery. It had existed in France’s overseas colonies by this time, but that didn’t mean anyone had to like it. Hedbor candidly portrays this attitude on the part of the French and Americans opposed to it, while judiciously shunning the ill-informed broad brush so prevalent today, an important consideration especially given the target audience.
The author generally is tasked with coördinating a fair amount of real-life and fictional colors, details, and this seems extra true in the case of The Path. Moreover, any narrative dealing with slavery walks a fine line in light of current hypersensitivity closely related to historical events being examined under the lens of contemporary values. This cliché is not articulated to insinuate that slavery enjoyed a 100% approval rating in eighteenth-century America, but rather that the tolerance level was not then what it is today (zero), and there still can be good qualities to find in people of the time. Hedbor is aware that no population is that one dimensional.
This also touches upon the appearance of an historical figure of the era, Moses Brown, of whom Hedbor also speaks in his notes. As I read them, it occurred to me how much historical and fiction “color coördination” was so skillfully brushed into his portrait, what with the added mixture of English and French speakers, Quaker business practices, and Brown’s involvement in a family-run slave trade.
Then the author dabs here, dabs there as he pieces together images, and recognition is our reward.
He got a faraway look in his eye, and added, “It may be, though, that history records the burning of the Gaspee, and the shot fired at Duddington as being the opening salvo of this revolution against England. People in Boston and Williamsburg were so alarmed at the prospect that they began coordinating their efforts against the Stamp Act and other Parliamentary actions across the colonies … and that led to the formation of the Continental Congress, and that to the Declaration of Independence and our present war against England.”
An intricate, thoughtfully told tale, The Path bears witness to one man’s struggle to choose and then move forward within the results of his election. Of all Hedbor’s works, it is perhaps one of his most technically perfect, while at the same time sacrificing nothing in creative beauty. It contains mad fear, anger, sorrow, betrayal and terror. However, the resiliency of the human spirit battles all these elements, with the theme of sharing running throughout, paving the way to change in the newborn nation. The characters are drawn with sensitivity, and some brutal truth, based as they are on real people, whose suffering and victories would be degraded and affronted were we to tell their tale in a manner that suits us, rather than how they actually lived these events. Hedbor honors their lives with this magnificently told story.
Keep an eye out in these pages for more from Lars Hedbor, including an upcoming giveaway of a signed and personalized paperback copy of any Hedbor novel of the reader’s choice, and my review of The Break.
About the author …
What made the American Colonists turn their back on their King, and fight for independence? How were they different from us–and how were their hopes and fears familiar to our own hearts?
These are the sorts of questions that I think are important to ask in examining the American Revolution, and in the pages of my novels, I suggest some possible answers.
My first novel, The Prize, was published in 2011, followed by The Light in 2013, and The Smoke, The Declaration, and The Break in 2014; The Wind was published in 2015, and The Darkness in 2016.
I’ve also written extensively about this era for the Journal of the American Revolution, and have appeared as a featured guest on an Emmy-nominated Discovery Network program, The American Revolution, which premiered nationally on the American Heroes Channel in late 2014. I am also a series expert on America: Fact vs. Fiction for Discovery Networks, and will be a panelist at the Historical Novel Society’s 2017 North American Conference.
I am an amateur historian, linguist, brewer, fiddler, astronomer and baker. Professionally, I am a technologist, marketer, writer and father. My love of history drives me to share the excitement of understanding the events of long ago, and how those events touch us still today.
For those in or close to Aloha, Oregon, come have some fun! Release party for The Path will be October 28, between 1:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon, at Jan’s Paperbacks.
Photo courtesy Lars D.H. Hedbor
An advance reader’s copy of The Path was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review.