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True Sisters by Sandra Dallas

True Sisters (edition 2012)

by Sandra Dallas

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1741368,238 (3.65)20
Title:True Sisters
Authors:Sandra Dallas
Info:St. Martin's Press (2012), Edition: Book Club (BCE/BOMC), Hardcover, 352 pages
Collections:Read but unowned

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True Sisters by Sandra Dallas

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    The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff (gypsysmom)
    gypsysmom: Deals with polygamy among Mormons both originally and in the contemporary world.

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Sandra Dallas writes stories that feature woman’s history and that history often occurs in the American West. In True Sisters she tells of the Mormons and her focus in on the incredible handcart treks that crossed the American plains and mountains in 1856. The last group, the Martin Company left Iowa City in late July and encountered terrible weather conditions and hardships, of the 575 people on this trek somewhere between 135 to 170 perished.

In this novel the individual stories of some of the women on that trek are told and she brings to life both the women and the ordeal that they faced. Although the author drew on first hand accounts, her characters are fictional but she certainly is able to describe and make sense of their religion, their hopes, fears and some of the controversy that surrounded this event. Although most of these women were new converts to the religion and did not agree with the idea of plural marriages, it often made more sense to them once they had experienced the severity of carving a life out of this difficult environment and learning that sometimes the comfort and friendship of other women could make life easier. I thought the author dealt quite fairly with this issue, showing both the good and the ugly side of plurality.

I found True Sisters a fascinating and moving story as these people struggled to survive and reach a place where they hoped to have a new life of religious freedom and prosperity. ( )
1 vote DeltaQueen50 | Aug 14, 2016 |
This fictional novel is based on the true story of the Martin Handcart company that left Iowa City in July of 1856 with a group of Mormons headed for Salt Lake City, or Zion as they referred to it. They had been promised sturdy carts on which to transport their goods but there were none and the men were forced to build their own from unseasoned wood which did not hold up well during the difficult travel. There were also to have been supply points along the way where the people could get fresh food and clothing; there were none. As the travelers became weary during their 1300 mile walk many sickened and died. When heavy snows hit the group during October, deaths were numerous from exposure, starvation and illness. Dallas' story focuses on several women in the group and the heartache and struggles they faced in their 5 month journey.

I am a fan of Sandra Dallas but this book is, by far, the most depressing book I have ever read. I realize that this is a historical fact that this group of Mormons suffered immeasurable tragedies during this push to their new home in Utah. This book is unrelenting in its death, sadness, misery and downright horror. It was only saved from a 1 star, for me, by the ending which was satisfying for those who survived. I truly don't recommend this book to anyone.
( )
  Ellen_R | Jan 15, 2016 |
From the book jacket In 1856, Mormon converts, encouraged by Brigham Young himself, and outfitted with two-wheeled handcarts, set out on foot from Iowa City to Salt Lake City, the promised land. The Martin Handcart Company … is the last (of five groups) to leave on this 1,300-mile journey. Earlier companies arrive successfully in Salt Lake City, but for the Martin Company the trip proves disastrous.

My reactions
Based on a true episode in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Dallas’s novel focuses on four fictional women and their families as they make the arduous trip toward salvation. Louisa is married to one of the most zealous and influential prophets and she firmly believes he speaks for God. Jessie and her two brothers plan to found a successful farm in the fertile valley they envision. Nannie is making the trek with her sister and brother-in-law, after having been abandoned on her wedding day. Anne hasn’t converted to Mormonism but has no choice but to follow her husband since he has sold the thriving business her father left them to fund the trip to Utah.

The story is told in alternating vignettes, keeping the reader informed about each of these women and how they fare on the journey. I knew about the handcart expeditions but the focus of this novel makes for a very personalized history lesson on this episode in the setting of the American West. It also makes for a fast and compelling read. I did have a little trouble with the dialect and period phrases at times, but I could figure out from context what was meant.

Dallas excels at painting the landscape of this journey across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. The reader feels the oppressive heat of late August, the gloriously crisp days of autumn, the cold and damp of trudging through a series of rainy days, the bitter sting of sleet, and the unending cold of a November blizzard. What I particularly liked about the novel, however, were the women themselves. Not just the main four characters, but several other women they encountered in their travels showed themselves to be strong, resilient, intelligent, resourceful, opinionated, clever, skilled, compassionate, helpful, determined and good judges of character. Yes, there were vain, whiny, weak women (and men) in the group as well, but the strong women shone. They were nothing short of incredible. And while Dallas chose to use totally fictional characters, the reader is wise to remember that there were hundreds of real men and women who made similar journeys, including the 625 souls who actually set out with the Martin Company.
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
Fascinating and horrific story based on the true story of the Mormon settlers who walked 1300 miles from Iowa City to Salt Lake City in the 1850s, using handcarts to haul all their possessions. THe Martin company was the last group to do this in 1856 and their trip was disastrous. The narrative focuses on some of the women, and rotates from one to another. While I did not find the voices of the individual women distinct enough, the story was utterly absorbing and heartbreaking. ( )
  vnesting | Oct 26, 2014 |
I very much enjoyed this book. I learned lots about the Mormon faith and the trials faced by the early settlers of Utah. We spent part of our holiday last year in Utah but we went for the scenery not for the history so I didn't know much before reading this book.

One of the things I hadn't realized was how many of the early settlers came from England to move to Zion (as they called the region around Salt Lake City). This book follows four women from the British Isles who took part in the Martin Handcart Company. Nannie was a maid in a hotel in Edinburgh but lost her position when the owners found out she had converted to Mormonism. Louisa married one of the American missionaries that came to England to convert people and her entire family crossed to New York in order to emigrate to Zion. Jessie is travelling with her two brothers. They farmed in England and hope to find farms in Zion. Anne and her husband owned a prosperous tailoring shop in London. When missionaries came into the shop looking for thread to mend their suit Anne's husband was intrigued enough to go to church. He converted but Anne thought the Mormon doctrine was foolish. However, when her husband sold the shop and said they were moving to Salt Lake City Anne had to go with him because she had no way of surviving in London.

All of these women and 621 more left Iowa City on July 28, 1856 in the Martin Handcart Company. The handcarts were made of unseasoned wood and thus prone to breakdown. Due to the small size of the carts each adult was required to limit their possessions to only seventeen pounds. The emigrants were promised that there would be supplies provided by the Mormon Church along the way but this promise, like others, proved to be false. These people had to travel 1300 miles to Salt Lake City under their own steam with barely enough food to keep themselves alive. Add to that the cold weather, snow, sickness and injury and the journey seems like the worst sort of nightmare.

I can't imagine making a journey like this but Dallas does an excellent job of portraying the difficulties and also the small mercies. I am amazed that anyone made it through. Dallas says in the Acknowledgments section that between 135 and 170 people in this company perished on the journey. Apparently there were more deaths among the men than among the women giving lie to the saying that women are the weaker sex.

This was a fascinating book and I heartily recommend it. I have a copy of The Gathering of Zion by Wallace Stegner which Dallas refers to as one of her sources. I'll have to move it up the pile. ( )
  gypsysmom | Aug 14, 2012 |
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1856. Mormon converts Nannie, Louisa, Jessie, and Anne, all from the British Isles, travel in the Martin Handcart Company, making the 1,300-mile journey on foot from Iowa City to Salt Lake City, while enduring unimaginable hardships. Each woman will test the boundaries of her faith and learn the true meaning of survival and friendship along the way.… (more)

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