This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger was one of my September Book of the Month picks, and I absolutely savored this beautiful book. Krueger is a master storyteller, and while this is the first book I’ve read by him, I’ll certainly add his backlist titles to my TBR!
This book is about Odie and his brother Albert, orphaned and sent to live at the Lincoln Indian Training School in Minnesota in 1932. It’s a miserable existence: punishment, hunger, and hard work. They find kindness through their friendship with Mose, a fellow student who has had his tongue cut out through an act of violence due to his Native American heritage, and through Emmeline, the daughter of a teacher at the school. Tragedy strikes and Emmy’s mom is killed in a tornado, and Odie, Albert, and Mose save Emmy from the cruelty that awaits her with the headmasters who try to adopt her, the Brickmans.
The story reads like a Greek classical epic as they flee the Lincoln School in a canoe on the Gilead River, trying to make their way to St. Louis with the promise of a distant relative who may be able to help them. Along the way, they see all facets of American life: Hoovervilles, droughts, brothels, struggling small towns, opulent hotels, religious revivals. It’s a fascinating look at Depression-era America and those who inhabited it. Along the way, Odie, Albert, Emmy and Mose all learn what ‘home’ means to them, and learn infinite things about who they are.
Krueger’s writing was phenomenal. I often found myself stopping and really reflecting on his beautiful words. There are many examples, but the following is one that I loved:
“We breathe love in and we breathe love out. It’s the essence of our existence, the very air of our souls.”
This book is destined to be a modern classic! 5/5 stars.