From Publishers Weekly
Denton, a journalist who previously explored Mormon history in American Massacre
, relays and interprets a British ancestor's experiences in crossing an ocean and a continent to join the Latter-day Saints in Utah. Jean Rio Baker was, by Denton's assessment, a wealthy Victorian woman who "fell sway" to the message of Mormon missionaries in the 1840s. Not long after her husband died, she packed up her children and other members of her extended family and embarked from England on the arduous voyage to Utah. This short biography is at its best when it adheres closely to Rio Baker's own journal of her experiences on the ocean (where she tragically buried a child at sea) and the plains, which she vividly describes in fascinating detail. But for the long stretches of Rio Baker's life where she either did not keep a journal or it has not survived, readers are left with Denton's own rather angry assessment of how her great-great-grandmother was deceived and betrayed by the Mormons. Unfortunately, the book is riddled with numerous factual errors about 19th-century Mormonism and the Book of Mormon, which may cause readers to question other elements in the biography. Despite the sloppy research and some unfair caricatures, Denton portrays her ancestor as a resourceful, independent mother and midwife who heroically survived her religious disillusionment. (Apr. 28)
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Journalist and historian Denton (American Massacre
, 2003) traces the westward journey of her great-great grandmother, Mormon convert Jean Rio Griffiths. Basing this chronicle largely on Jean Rio's diaries, the author is able to paint an intimate portrait of one uniquely American experience. Leaving her comfortable home in England, middle-aged widow Jean Rio traveled across the ocean, the plains, and the mountains with her seven children, seeking the elusive Eden promised by the Mormon missionaries. Finally reaching Utah and the Mormon settlement, a deeply spiritual Jean Rio grew quickly disillusioned with the autocratic Mormon leadership and the practice of polygamy. Ultimately renouncing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she reclaimed her independence and settled in California. Though Denton's kinship to her subject tends to color her objectivity, her attention to historical and descriptive detail enhances this testament to the pioneer spirit. Margaret FlanaganCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved