THE INDIAN LOVER
Garth Murphy, . . Simon & Schuster, $26 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-1943-3
This sprawling, romantic debut novel by a native Californian historian/songwriter spans the years 1845 to 1851—the final days of California under the rule of Spain and Mexico—and follows the fortunes of a young Cupa Indian rancher and a starry-eyed American pioneer. Eighteen-year-old Bill Marshall, the son of a Puritan farmer, has just spent four years at sea on a whaling vessel when he is seduced by the siren song of John Trumbull Warner, an entrepreneur who hopes to persuade Congress to build a railroad to California and promises those who travel west a land of milk and honey. Bill persuades Warner's friend Pablo Verdi, a Franciscan-educated young Indian ranch-owner Warner brought East with him, to make the return trip on a whaler. They sign two-year contracts and plan to jump ship together when they make it to San Diego. The first night ashore, Bill falls in love with the mayor's daughter, who is already promised to the son of the ex-governor of California. Pablo, too, finds his plans thwarted—in his two-year absence from the territory, his ranch has been stolen by the present governor. Together they travel north on the Camino Real, heading for Pablo's tribal lands in the shadow of Mt. Palomar. Finally resigned that he cannot have the mayor's daughter, Bill marries the daughter of the local chief. His fate is then bound up with that of the Cupa as they are buffeted between U.S. and Mexican forces and overrun by the gold rush. At times a bit overburdened by detail and repetition, the narrative offers a vivid picture of the early years of pioneer life on the westernmost edge of the continent.
Reviewed on: 11/11/2002