True Sisters by Sandra Dallas is an historical novel of the Mormon Trail and the ill-fated Martin Party that left too late in the season of 1856 ... pushing handcarts. About 25% of the party died of accidents, starvation and exposure. To put this perspective, the Donner Party had a death rate of almost 50%, but because the Donner group was so much smaller, Martin Party deaths were four times as great. This might be the worse disaster of the many treks across the plains.
The story is told through the eyes of several of the women ... a woman who was living well in England and gave up everything to be with her husband and children, even though she did not convert to Mormonism; two sisters, one married and one not; a midwife with knowledge of herbal remedies; and a young girl who escaped forced prostitution.
The women deal with cooking and washing on the trail, delivering babies, and mourning the death children and parents. This is a saga of death ... at almost every point of the journey people are dying ... those that don't die, have limbs amputated to save their lives.
Though this is a novel of strong women and sisterhood, the mid-18th century and the Mormon doctrine of plural marriages leaves these women with little alternative but to obey and support their husbands and the male leaders.
Though the Mormons are presented as friendly and supportive, the leadership seems to embody the worst of religious demagoguery. The author presents a stark contrast between the arrogant male hierarchy and the caring, supportive females caught up in the voyage. The book is a wonderful story of the historical migration across the plains to the west and the strong women who made so much of it possible.
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