What is the end of summer without a few well-done novels to dig into while the force of thunder and lightning rage past your window? Next to my window is Leslie Nyman's historical novel, The Sound of Her Own Voice. Nyman delves into the phenomenon of the California Gold Rush—a movement that gripped thousands of men and women hoping to secure a better life from a bit of gold.
Among these men and women are Lena and Joseph Benjamin, young newlyweds from the streets of New York. Traveling by sea rather than overland, their plan should be simple—sign on to a clipper ship or two, cross the Isthmus of Panama, then sail to San Francisco where they will work in the store owned by Joseph's uncle. Later, they would try their luck in the goldfields. "Lena thought working in a store in San Francisco sounded so tame, so ordinary...She imagined standing ankle-deep in a stream of warm rushing water...bending down to pick up a walnut-sized rock of gold."
After being dropped ashore by one clipper ship, the young couple, along with a few other travelers including a professional gambler, find themselves in something described as a Panamanian bungo. A caravan of mules is the next mode of transport. High in the mountain region, Lena's mule stumbles on the narrow trail, taking her down and stomping on her ankle. This injury will become an asset later in Lena's story.
Arriving in Panama City, the group finds the clipper ship that is to carry them to San Francisco is late. Worse, the city is wracked with cholera, and Joseph is ill with fever. Despite her wound, Lena combs the city for a doctor willing to care for Joseph. Just as another ship arrives, Lena finds a compassionate physician and is persuaded to leave Joseph with the doctor while she continues the journey to San Francisco.
The Sound of Her Own Voice is Lena's story. She has no time to nurse the disappointment she feels upon arriving in San Francisco to find that the trusted uncle has headed for the hills, or the abandonment when her friend the gambler has disappeared, or the humiliation when she is rejected from a boarding house because she is Jewish. Better days do come to Lena. She finds her voice as well as her trusted companion, the gambler. Other friends appear, and finally she finds a wonderful surprise waiting for her.
Leslie Nyman has written a novel that could be the true story of many "49ers", as they were known. If you find the stories of the Western migration drawing you in, this one's for you.
Read an excerpt from this book.
Leslie Nyman has been a nurse, gardener, veterinary assistant, and writer. She lives in Western Massachusetts. The Sound of Her Own Voice is her first novel. Read more about her on her publisher's website.
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