Of faith and frostbite: a review of True Sisters

 

True Sisters
Sandra Dallas
341 pages, hardcover: $24.99.
St. Martin’s Press, 2012.

In the 2012 presidential election, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints emerged from the shadows with the first Mormon candidate for the nation's highest office. Colorado writer Sandra Dallas's 11th novel examines the history of a religion not widely understood outside its Utah base, where 62 percent of residents identify as Mormon. True Sisters illuminates the disastrous 1856 Martin Handcart Company journey from Iowa City to Salt Lake, introducing us to a fascinating group of mostly Scottish emigrants.

The pioneers have to make their way first across the ocean, then over the prairies and mountains, starting dangerously late in summer. We already know how perilous the journey will be, the insanity of the leadership's decision to send 625 people out on foot in August, pushing poorly constructed handcarts across dirt, sand, mud and snow, with the hope of arriving in the Great Salt Lake before winter. Ill-prepared, underfed and poorly supplied, one in four will die before they reach the so-called New Zion.

Dallas homes in on a handful of women, some pregnant and accompanied by husbands, others by brothers and parents, who begin the trek determined to create their lives anew. Recent converts, they're eager to flee the stultifying Christianity of their native Great Britain for a new faith in a new land -- a 19th century version of the Pilgrims' voyage to New England. The charismatic Thales Tanner, Louisa's new husband, a missionary who knew Joseph Smith and can personally testify to the wonders of Zion, inspires many to make the arduous journey. They include several members of Louisa's family, not all of whom survive.

Dallas avoids political pronouncements about the LDS church. Instead, she re-opens an often-overlooked chapter of westward expansion and helps us see it through the eyes of those who lived it: "Jessie joyed to see the vast land, so wide and open, so different from the landscape of the farm, with its copses and hedgerows. 'I never saw a country I liked better in my life. The earth is as young as a baby, while at home it was as aged as an old man.' "

High Country News Classifieds
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • FEATURES DIRECTOR - HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Features Director to join our editorial...
  • GENERAL MANAGER
    The Board of UYWCD seeks a new GM to manage operations & to implement our robust strategic plan. Details at www.upperyampawater.com. EOE
  • IN TUCSON, FOR SALE: A BEAUTIFUL, CLASSIC MID-CENTURY MODERN HOME
    designed by architect David Swanson in 1966. Located a block from Saguaro National Forest, yet minutes to Downtown and the UofA campus, 3706 sqft, 6...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of the San Juans is seeking a new leader guide our efforts to protect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Salish...
  • 80 ACRES
    straddles North Platte Fishery, Wyoming. Legal access 2 miles off 1-80. Call 720-440-7633.
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • OWN A THRIVING MOUNTAIN GUIDE SERVICE.
    Eastern Sierra guide service for sale to person with vision & expertise to take it onwards. Since 1995 with USFS & NPS permits. Ideal for...
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...