August 02, 2006

Walking on Water

I keep thinking that I hate historical fiction, and then marvelous historians keep proving me wrong. Historically accurate with great detail about the livelihood of lighthouse keepers and the society of late 19th century California, this book has humor and emotional hooks to keep you interested until the very last.

Eliza Jane McCully loves being the daughter of a lighthousekeeper, and Crescent City in 1886 is a town of misty fog and intrigues. The Chinese have come, working in the mines and setting up a shanty town in the middle of "decent folks" and it's causing big trouble. White men are losing their jobs, and Eliza's father says the "heathens" shouldn't be allowed to prosper. But Eliza has eyes in her head, and she knows what she sees. She sees "Christians" joining in thuggish mobs, against the Chinese. She sees the doctor buying Chinese herbs to prescribe to his Californian patients. She sees the life she loves hanging by a thread.

But she can't seem to help herself. She blurts things. She interferes. She changes everything.

Walk Across the Sea tells the bittersweet story of one girl's choice to defy her father, her family and her community to do what was right, no matter how high the cost. A timely reflection as well on California's history of treating its laboring immigrants poorly, this book has some food for thought for today.

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