on May 17, 2010
Reviewed by: Anne Holmes
Note: This is a true story. As author Terrell tells it, her book technically falls into two genres: creative non-fiction and historical fiction. She's deservedly proud that her original manuscript was admitted to the Nashville Government Metropolitan Archives for use by future historians and researchers. It's also winner of the 2010 Bengal Book Awards. But you probably won't be thinking too much about this once you start reading. No, you'll just be turning the pages as fast as you can...
Terrell weaves an amazing tale, allowing us to join her ancestors, the Neely family, on their journey west from Virginia to Tennessee via flatboat, in 1779-1780. They were part of a journey history has deemed the "ill-fated Donelson Party."
The trip was supposed to take four weeks, but instead it took four months - four long, cold months -- December through April.
* Four months during which the eleven people on the Neely family boat don't have the opportunity to change their clothing. (They - as did those on the 30 other boats -- lived in layers, to keep as warm as possible.)
* Four months of poling their unwieldy boat by day, then stopping to cook a meal from dwindling supplies, over a campfire before cleaning up the dishes and falling into bed.
* Four months of sleeping on two mattresses on the cabin floor - one for the women, one for the men. (Get this: They slept head to foot to allow more people to fit onto each mattress.)
* Four months of living through frostbite, near starvation, disease, deadly rapids - and a mutiny. Not to forget that for hundreds of miles they were repeatedly attacked by the Chickamauga Indians.
I've never been in a flatboat, but I have seen a real wagon, from a wagon train. They are not as large as a minivan. I imagine the Neely's living space wasn't much larger, as we learn that it was roughly one-fourth the size of the home they left...and had to contain all their food and possessions, too.
* You will be riveted as you ride along with the Neely family, working as hard as you can to stay alive while watching your fellow flatboaters fall ill with smallpox, become wounded, captured by Indians, or killed.
* You'll cringe as Mary, her sisters and mother become midwives, helping Elizabeth, a pregnant woman from another boat, through 24 hours of labor, and the delivery of a 7-pound son; then have to urge her to hike thought the wilderness next day, to avoid being shot by Indians.
on February 7, 2015
Taking a piece of cold though well-documented history and turning it into a vivid and gripping human drama is an impressive achievement. I doubted that River Passage would include detailed accounts of the Indian attacks, but Ms. Terrell described them in all their carnage and brutality. Some of the images are still with me. She described masterfully not only the river passage but also the passage of time. A projected month turned into four months, but in terms of physical and emotional strain and suffering it seemed like years. The endurance, courage, and character of Mary Neely, members of her family, and other settlers was beyond what most of us moderns could muster. Terrell showed the Indian attackers' point of view effectively too, but still let us sympathize with the settlers' goals and plight. A memorable tale well told.
"River Passage" is a based on true events drawn from the journal of Colonel John Donelson and other journals and records kept by other settlers and those who were a part of the 35 families of the Donelson Party. It is the shocking story of their riverboat journey, beginning at the Clinch River in Virginia and of their intense experiences while under Indian attack, near starvation hunger, disease, chilling temperatures, an going harrowing battle with the river currents and rapids, and the overwhelming physical and emotional exhaustion they experienced in their travel westward to Fort Nashborough in 1779 and 1780.
Terrell's writing style and her use of description create a feeling that is consistent with the other elements of the story. Her descriptions stimulate all five senses: the taste of diluted broth, the odor of disease, the breathtaking beauty of nature, the serenity of silence, and the comfort of human touch.
These descriptive techniques help advance the tenseness of action plot filled with suspense and conflict. She brings life to these historical figures and relevance to their contribution to history. Her dialog fits the characters and the time frame of the story. I found myself engaged in a struggle as I tried to balance the conflict of the desire of the Indian to maintain their culture and land while I understood the aspirations of the settler in their search for independence, freedom, and security for their families.
With an amazing attention to detail, internationally acclaimed author p.m. terrell, brings a new level of excellence to historical fiction.
on November 2, 2009
We usually think of our early pioneers moving with stage coach and horses across the great frontier of America. The author, Patricia Terrell, chose the story about pioneers who traveled by flatboat from Virginia to Tennessee. The book, River Passage, is packed with adventure, danger, hardships, challenges and suspense. This book is a great recreational read and a great way to get your history lessons while enjoying the fictional story woven around the real settlers who experienced many of the adventures described. You will also find some photos of the real life Neely family. I highly recommend the book, River Passage.
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on October 27, 2009
"River Passage", the latest book by author pmterrell, is one of the most absorbing historical fiction reads I've ever enjoyed. There is no end of danger, action, suspense, and real adventure in this wonderfully crafted prequel to "Songbirds Are Free". "River Passage" is a "must read" for those who found themselves caught up in the story of Mary Neely's family. Both of these books are based on the true story of the family's dangerous trek via river flatboats with other would-be settlers at the height of the movement westward through Indian country in the 1700s. There is painstaking effort to have historical accuracy in portraying the saga of this brave band of settlers as they face river rapids, Indian raids, lack of food, death and disease. Terrell has met the challenge of presenting both the settler and Indian viewpoints as the settlers encroach further into Indian territory. This balanced portrayal of history makes for the kind of story that captures the reader's interest right from the first page. If you have read "Songbirds Are Free" you will already know the magic Terrell infuses into the telling of a tale that's almost too fantastic to be true - yet it is. I encourage all historical adventure lovers to continue the Neely family journey by reading "River Passage". Terrell is truly a force to be reckoned with when it comes to historical adventure stories.
Pamela June Kimmell, Author/Artist
on October 25, 2009
This book truly brought history alive. I felt the terror of the Donelson party when the Indians appeared on either side of the river, and their horror at the loss of so many in their group as they saw, or heard, the ways the Indians murdered the settlers. There were more graphic descriptions than I wanted to read, but I'm sure such text was mild compared to the real attacks in our nation's history.
P.M. Terrell allows her characters to tell a fascinating story through their myriad emotions; and how their many hardships along the way changed them forever. As the reader focuses on Mary Neely, we begin to feel as if we have stowed away in her heart and mind. We feel her yearning for the home she left behind. Our hands felt the pain that hers endured, for months, while struggling to do her part of keeping their boat on course. Mary's fear of what lay ahead was palpable, yet at the same moment she despaired of ever reaching their destination.
This is a brilliant work! I normally don't read in bed, but found myself nodding off during late hours with "River Passage." I literally hated to put it down. Now that I have finished, I will hurriedly be purchasing the next installment of Mary's story: "Songbirds are Free." This book will tell of Mary's capture by Indians, only 4 months after she reaches Fort Nashborough...it is sure to be an exciting read.
on September 10, 2009
There's courage and then there's courage. In p. m. terrell's latest book there are rafts of it, literally and physically. Working from diaries and papers from a bygone era terrell creates a work of historical fiction that knows no bounds.
From the first mention of the voyage until it's incredible conclusion we are with the party through thick and thin. Description is terrell's forte and she certainly doesn't let us down in this prequel to her book Songbirds Are Free.
While the Donelson Party departed with the usual high hopes of a smooth passage from Virginia in 1779 to Fort Nashborough in what is now Tennessee, one foresaw the terror, lean times, and demanding strength that such a journey would entail. Yet they set out, and learn very quickly not only of the demands but that they are not alone.
Both sides of the story are revealed to us, in terrell's patented energized fashion. Face it folks when you settle on her novels' you might as well turn off your mobile, and tell your friends you're on holiday. You'll be glued to every page and have all the history you can handle as the miracle of the Donelson Party's passage reveals itself.
Oh, and by the way, you might as well pick up Songbirds Are Free too, because like a good Clive Cuttler you're going to want to dive right in and find out what happens next!
on July 14, 2012
Really enjoyed this book. Well written, felt like I was part of the trip. Good for anyone interested in the history of Virginia to Tennessee settlers or the Nashville area.
on November 8, 2009
As I began reading River Passage by P. M. Terrell, I was consumed by the gut-wrenching story of a young girl and her family headed out west to forge a new life. These pioneers endured the most harrowing adventures and hard times of the like that we have not seen in this country since the early 1800's.
The main character of this superb tale is Mary Neely. She is a young teenager that is leaving behind an easy if not pampered lifestyle for one that is harder and scarier than anything she could have ever imagined. Based on actual events and real people, River Passage takes on a vivid journey that is at times horrifying and other times, inspiring.
Terrell drew me in with her colorful passages and this book soon became an appendage until I completed it. I simply could not put it down and found myself awake late into the night willing to sacrifice my precious sleep to read the next page, and the next, and the next...
I easily found myself right along the other families flowing down the river on their flat boats. Terrell expertly led me there and took me on a journey of a lifetime.
Marcia Freespirit, CEO
JimSam Inc. Publishing
I just have one word to describe this book. Fantabulous!! I could not put the book down. The unbelievable story of the Donelson's Party is a must read for everyone. It will inspire you to do whatever you want to do in life. Too many people give up before they achieve their dreams. The author has done her research in depth, and it shows in her writing.