O My America! by Sara Wheeler

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Our honeymoon was a road trip from San Francisco along Highway 1 coastal road to Monterey, Santa Barbara and LA then across the desert to Las Vegas. We packed a lot in but it was an amazing trip along what would have been the old American frontier and wild west! I love the old stories and history of the frontier from wagon trains, how people survived, Native Americans to the gold rush. So I thought O My America! was very suitable reading to take with me on the trip.

Unlike most books I read this is a factual book. Sara tells the stories of 6 women in the 1800’s who set out to America for new experiences, fortune and to enjoy life with new freedom in a new country. We meet Fanny Trollope who goes to America for fortune, Fanny Kemble who follows her heart but learns life is unfair for women and the cruel reality of slave plantations, Harriet Martineau who was after experiences for her books, Rebecca Burland who lives the harsh life of a settler farming family, Isabella Bird who was a true adventurer and Catherine Hubback who followed her children to make a new life in America.

Sara has done a lot of research into their lives and the detail she includes means we have a small bio of each and really get to know them. They are individuals in their own right, have different experiences and some we like and some not so much. But overall they are strong, determined women in a man’s world. America has given them the opportunity to try and create new lives, and escape the constraints of British society. America is a new land on the frontier where there is a mix of people who are experiencing the same hardship or joy as everyone else.

My favourite person in this book is Isabella Bird as she was a true woman adventurer. At home she was sickly but with some freedom she was determined, fearless and tried anything. She is an inspiration to go live life to the full and enjoy it and I recommend definitely reading her story. She is someone who you would want to know and listen to her amazing tales. Another favourite is Rebecca Burland’s story which captures the true reality of life on the frontier as a settler. Farming is harsh there but her determined family make it. This is the true Little House on the Prairie tale, but it is so endearing too.

Each woman is a known writer in their time and wrote about their experiences in America and this book explains their influences and reasons behind some of what they wrote. Abolition of slavery was a central theme as was the different culture in America. Some women found Americans rude, having no manners etc. but maybe that is what makes America what it is today – a society of many cultures and traditions where everyone can be themselves. The woman went to America to reinvent themselves but some seemed to expect a replica of Britain which is disappointing as what is the point in going for new experiences if you expect the same.

As well as writing the woman’s bios, Sara follows in their steps and gives us a perspective of how things have changed in the places the women went and another aspect of the terrain of the old wild west. It is interesting how life moves on and after my trip to USA I can relate to places in this book too and how different they are to what these woman experienced. But you can imagine it so vividly with the detailed descriptions and imagine the atmosphere, sun, snow, people and emotion of situations.

If you are interested in the frontier of USA then this is a great read. It may be factual but sometimes learning about other real people can be very inspiring and really brings back what is important in life and that we should live it. Also it highlights how lucky we are in the modern age in the UK and USA compared to some of the harsh things these woman saw and went through. Determination for various reasons is the core theme of this book and essentially it is about ‘girl power’!

What did you think of this book and which woman did you find inspiring?

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2 responses »

  1. Pingback: I’m getting married! | Anita's book bag

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