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Not your father's Pilgrims.
on 31 July 2007
I wasn't sure what to expect from 'Mayflower'. It had been rated as one of the best books of the year by a number of book sellers, but sometimes reading an historical novel can be quite dry and boring- who knew it could be this interesting!
To begin with, I am certain so much of what is written in this book is unknown to most people. The story of the Pilgrims has become so commonplace and hackneyed that I don't think many of us even realize what the Pilgrims were really trying to accomplish by immigrating to North America. This book puts to rest any misconceptions, romantic notions or misperceptions about this group of people called the Pilgrims. It attests to the brutal nature of the world during that time and the sometimes-horrible things a people must do to survive. The fact that any of the Pilgrims actually lived through their first few winters on this continent is truly amazing and speaks to their strong stock.
'Mayflower' begins by documenting the decisions faced by these people in England to start their lives over again in a totally different "world". Freedom of religion was their most overriding reason for wanting to begin anew. They needed a place to live and worship free from persecution. The horrific voyage and their landing on the North American shore are all laid out very vividly, and there are side stories and anecdotes about the people and their families, making it possible to have a real connection to the story. In writing about the Native American tribes in the area surrounding Plymouth Colony, it is obvious Nathaniel Philbrick has done his homework. He speaks in excruciating detail about these tribes, their leaders and particularly about their wartime strategies and nomadic ways. In addition, the relationship between the Pilgrims and the natives was so adversarial, it belies the tradition we know of the "Thanksgiving Meal". I also think most people do not realize that the Pilgrims abused their relationship with the natives and took advantage of them. It certainly shocked me, and I found myself thinking they were bloody thugs, not the cute little stovepipe hat/golden buckle wearing saints they are often depicted as. 'Mayflower' is not glamorous or enchanting, nor is it a homey and heartwarming story, it's a gritty, harrowing, bloody, real-world view of a group of people who had a hand in developing a country known as the United States of America.