After her mother’s death, Marie Kotlarczyk’s father, a Polish immigrant, decides to uproot his remaining family in Chicago and head west by wagon train to Flats Town in the Dakota Territories. There he hopes to join Walter, a fellow craftsman from Poland, and start a tinsmith shop with his sons next to Walter’s blacksmith shop. However, his plans do not go smoothly. Marie’s older brother Tom, a former soldier who left a fiancé back in Chicago, resents his father’s decision to move the family, while her younger brother Al feels a need to prove himself. Worse, yet, Marie, irresistibly drawn to tinsmithing but with no hope of being taken seriously because of her gender, accidentally breaks a valuable piece of machinery her father has just spent some of their meager savings to buy. On arriving at their new home, the family is almost instantly deeply in debt due to circumstances beyond their control. All too soon, it seems to fall on young Mare to hold their fragile world together.
This is a wonderful novel. Sara Dahmen clearly knows her subject matter. Dahmen, one of America’s few women coppersmiths, works with tools from the 1800s to make vintage cookware. This background, combined with careful research evidenced by the included bibliography, lends a real authenticity to her writing that gives the reader a genuine sense of life in a frontier town. More than just a history lesson, however, Dahmen’s plot is refreshingly unpredictable, making it difficult to put aside by the end. Most striking, however, is the complexity of her main character, Marie. This is a motherless teenage girl from an immigrant family who is attempting to navigate young womanhood in the foreign culture of a frontier without a role model. She is also a creative spirit who resists the predefined gender roles of her time. She is a person in whom very understandable self-doubts blanket the spark of an indomitable spirit. In other words, she is a complex, fully developed character, and it is a pleasure to watch her evolve throughout the novel. If this novel has a weakness, it is Dahmen’s choice to write in the present tense using the first-person point of view, which lends a sort of breathless immediacy to the writing that becomes a bit wearing after a while. Still, this can be overlooked because the story is so good.
Currently in production to become a motion picture, Tinsmith 1865 is the first novel in the planned, six-volume Flats Junction series. On finishing this novel, readers will almost certainly be looking for the next in that series.
|Page Count||400 pages|
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