At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was an interesting book, much of it dark, but eventually redeemed by hope. James Goodenough and his family emigrates from Connecticut to northwestern Ohio in hopes of a better life in the 1840's. However, his marriage is unstable, and he and his wife establish a hardscrabble farm in the Black Swamp, a very difficult and inhospitable place. James hankers after the apple orchards of his father's farm and attempts to establish his own orchard of Golden Pippins, sweet eating apples. His wife Sadie is addicted to the apple jack she makes from "spitters" and she is jealous of the time, energy, and love her husband spends on his sweet apples. Their life is hard, and though she bears 10 children, she loses most of them to swamp fever. She looks forward only to the visits of John Chapman who brings her husband apple seeds and sapling, and brings her the coveted apple jack. Their story comes to a horrific end, but their son Robert escapes and heads west. He winds up in California, and finds a calling working as a seed collector for an English nursery. He is weighed down by his family history but eventually finds redemption.
This book is peopled with real characters - John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed), William Lobb, and others. Tracy Chevalier brings the time period (1840s & 1850's) to life, and also manages to evoke the wonder of nature through the redwood and sequoia trees that Robert falls in love in.
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