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Red Water: A Novel Paperback – April 8, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1857, in a field in southern Utah, a party of Mormons and Native Americans slaughtered more than a hundred men, women and children who were traveling to California. Only one man was ever tried, and executed, for the horror that became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre John D. Lee. This well-told novel by Freeman (The Chinchilla Farm) presents Lee's story from the point of view of three of his 19 wives: Emma, his "English bride," who recognizes that the man she loves is made up of equal parts tenderness and savagery; Ann, a child-bride of 13, who is hardened and wise beyond her years; and Rachel, the faithful, older wife, who remains devoted to Lee even after his excommunication and eventual execution. Freeman's novel is well researched (drawing heavily upon the work of historian Juanita Brooks), and her nuanced, perceptive portrayal of Mormon life stands in stark contrast to other Mormon-themed fiction (particularly the recent novels of Brigham Bybee). The book's descriptions are memorable, evoking the bleak but stunning landscape of the region. The motif of the red scenery reflects the raw bloodiness of the massacre, a metaphor that is often brilliant but occasionally overdone ("The very atmosphere of this brute red world seemed impregnated with sorrow and evil, colored by all the innocent blood shed that day"). Rachel's deeply pious character is remote and slightly underdeveloped; her section is the shortest and the last. Overall, Freeman has crafted a novel that is historically faithful, character-driven and deeply poignant. 9-city author tour.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

Unlike most historical novels, this one, which opens with a man's execution, doesn't pander to contemporary values. The condemned is a charismatic Mormon leader who participated in the massacre of a hundred and twenty Gentile pioneers in 1857, and Freeman describes the crime through the reactions of three of his nineteen wives. Rachel, the eldest, remains dislikably faithful to his memory. Emma, however, comes to see her husband as self-serving, and his youngest wife, Ann, who married him at the age of thirteen, becomes Emma's unlikely emancipator. With Ann's story—that of a young woman living in the Utah wilderness with a profound sense of her own worth—the narrative soars. Readers may want to shrug off all that makes these devout women endure their existence of farmwork, housework, repeated pregnancies, jealousies, and little to call their own, but Freeman's novel makes astute points about the almost indistinguishable similarities between faith and love.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (April 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385720696
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385720694
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #883,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By storypage on February 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is great writing. I was completely taken in by just about everything about this book. I found the characters complex, the scenery beautiful, the language believable. The women were all interesting to me, and I didn't find anywhere that my interest lagged. I even found myself seeing John D. Lee as human for the first time, something even his memoirs were unable to accomplish. I don't know much about the theology or morality of the 19th century Mormon church, so I can't really say whether it was accurate in that regard or not, although I found it believable. I do, however, know a great deal about Mountain Meadows, having read just about everything published about it, including much of the apologist garbage that passes for history written by defenders. I can tell you that I found nothing she wrote about the massacre with which I disagreed, right down to "putting the saddle on the right horse." Brigham Young was directly responsible for ordering the massacre, and John D. Lee was just following orders, although that makes him no less a murderer in my eyes. It is no better defense here than it was at Nuremberg or Mai Lai.

I do confess a bias, however, although different from that of others. I first "met" Captain Alexander Fancher, leader of the Fancher party murdered at the meadows, as I was researching his brother, my great grandfather John Fancher. I found them and their families side by side in the 1850 census of San Diego, California. They had apparently come out together to try their hand at cattle raising and were headed for Tulare county in central California.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 15, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wow, I read a few of these reviews. Funny how whenever you write something that even touches the edge of religion, the zealots come out.
This is NOT a story about the Mountain Meadow Massacre, though the incident and its characters figure prominently. This is NOT a story about merits or evils of Mormonism, though most of the characters are mormon and deal with their beliefs. Instead Freeman forces us to look at how humans have to come to grips with the complexities of belief and the realities of harsh everyday life.
This is a story centered around a fictionalization of part of the life of John D Lee. Executed for his role in the massacre. But even more than that, it is centrally, a story about women, and how they love.
Emma, the devoted wife who was in love with Lee when he took her as his 8th (well 17th) wife. How she dealt with the love and desire for a man she could not possess for herself but who totally possessed her. How she was bound more to the land and the religion by the man than the other way around.
Ann, who at thirteen married Lee for complex reasons but in the end, was taken by his personality and her own curiosity, shall we say. But who was tormented more by the man whom she lost belief in and the religion she never believed in but was wary of. Lee's memory amd her mixed feelings for him dogged her life even when she had left. Moreso, maybe.
Rachel, who in the end, realized that she was devoted to Lee for what he could promise her in the next life. An eternity next to the sister she idolized and loved. But Rachel's devotion may appear more as love than the love of the others.
There was a certain fascination in this book for me. It is well done and I literally read it in two days almost straight through.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I have the privilege of having a long Mormon heritage. My family came west with Brigham Young and were among those sent to Arizona to settle. While this book is based on historical events and people, as Ms. Freeman points out, it is a work of fiction and should be read as such. It is beautifully written. It can invoke such strong emotions. It is not a book about the Mountain Meadows Massacre (undeniably a horrible incident that should never have happened or gone unpunished). It is a book about three very different women who were involved in a polygamous marriage to one of the most strong willed and charismatic men of the time. It is their stories of survive in a harsh place and in harsh times. Whether you agree with the doctrine of the Mormon church of the time is irrelevant. This is a wonderfully written book of three women who along with the other Morman women of the time changed the face of the west forever. This book is more than worth your time and effort to read. Just don't read it for history or a religion lesson
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jess Bluejay on December 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
<em>Red Water</em> by Judith Freeman is a work of historical fiction that takes place in the mid-19th century western US. Welcome to Mormon country. Freeman's novel fleshes out the true story of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, in which a wagon train party of 120 men, women, and children were slaughtered by a group of Mormons (and possibly some American Indians). The novel is ostensibly about the man who was eventually held responsible for the murders, John D Lee, but told from the perspective of three of his wives (Emma, Ann, and Rachel). It's one of those stories from US history that's disturbing, fascinating, and terribly intriguing. Freeman deftly weaves hints of it throughout the novel, delighting less in shocking her audience and more in subtly conveying the horrors of it. For example, there's a scene in which Emma wears a beautiful dress that John gave her to a big Mormon festival. She is soon ostracized for flaunting such ill-gotten gains as the dress came from one of the women killed in the Massacre. This forces Emma to confront her feelings about her husband's involvement. It also brings up another juicy part of the story: were those that participated in the Massacre just following orders (from higher-ups in the Mormon hierarchy who believed in blood atonement, like Brigham Young), were they motivated by greed (for the wagon trainers were quite wealthy), or both? While the story is superficially about the Massacre and its startling effects on Mormon society, the novel is really about the wives. When each wife contemplates the Massacre and John's involvement, she discovers the true nature of her love and faith. I plowed through this book, enthralled by the relationships between the wives and with their husband. Polygamy is a lot like the Massacre to me: fascinating and horrifying.Read more ›
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