By Denise Weimer
Four out of five bookmarks
If you walk around the main square in downtown Gainesville, you'll come across the art store Frames-You-Nique. Enter this shop and you'll spot displays exhibiting creations by local artists from all walks of life, from paintings to sculptures to self-published books.
Frames-You-Nique loves to showcase beautiful, original work by native Georgians. One of the featured books on its shelves - encased within a tranquil watercolor cover that immediately transports you back into a quieter, more rustic era - is Denise Weimer's "Sautee Shadows," a composition by someone who is clearly a dedicated and passionate historian of North Georgia's past.
"Sautee Shadows" is the first book in what will be the Georgia Gold trilogy, exploring Georgia in the 1830s and '40s in a captivating historical narrative. It focuses on two protagonists' stories from the time of their childhoods into their budding adulthoods.
The first character is Jack Randall, who as a 9-year-old child born and raised in New York, has trouble adjusting when his family moves to Savannah for his father to conduct his shipping business.
As he faces many trials and hardships, including the death of his mother, he eventually grows into an ambitious, hard-working young man, torn between his Northern and Southern values.
The second central character is Mahala Franklin, the daughter of a white man and a Cherokee woman, and thus finds difficulty fitting into society. When her father Michael Franklin is mysteriously murdered and her mother dies in childbirth, Mahala is raised by her Native American grandfather and a neighboring family.
Years later, Mahala's grandmother, Martha Franklin, returns to claim guardianship over Mahala and takes her to the upscale town of Clarksville. Eventually Jack and Mahala cross paths as both become involved in competing hotel businesses. But will their newfound rivalry lead to something deeper that neither of them expected?
The novel has a third story involving the haughty but handsome Devereaux Rousseau, whose family members are clients and close friends of the Randalls, and his cousin Carolyn Calhoun, whose girlish awkwardness gradually blossoms into a romantic interest in Dev. This storyline, however, is introduced so late into the novel there was no opportunity to become invested in these characters or care much about their amorous outcome.
As you can see, this novel covers much ground. It blends American history and its unrest in the decades leading up to the Civil War with the treatment and viewpoints of Native Americans and blacks and the economic practices of trades and businesses in 1800s Georgia, through the fictitious lives of the main characters.
It is all balanced well, intertwining Jack and Mahala's tales effectively (although there is no resolution to any of the character's conflicts or pursuits, as I am sure this is going to be carried over into the next two books).
It would seem that the author enjoyed writing Mahala's story the most, as she is most prevalent and also has the more interesting conflicts - her turmoil with her Cherokee heritage, which she must embrace as it thrusts her into a social limbo; her feelings for the only other local Cherokee boy, and whether or not she should marry him because he may be the only one to ever accept her; and her secret investigation into the murder of her father, despite her grandmother's wishes to not delve into things she does not understand.
Jack's story, while also intriguing, is more a conflict of a mental nature, as he lives a life of privilege and already maintains good standing in society. He is more a device to explore the opposing opinions between the North and the South, and while most other characters clearly represent one set of political beliefs or the other, Jack finds that nothing is so black-and-white, especially when it becomes a personal matter.
One can see how much time, devotion and love that Weimer put into her novel, and Sautee Shadows is an excellent way to learn more about Georgia's history through a well-researched, well-written and touching chronicle.
The second book is due to be released this October, and hopefully will continue to build on an already remarkable saga.
Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? E-mail her to tell her about it. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.