Translated by David Miller
Arsenal Pulp Press. 134 pages, $12.95
This historical novel, set in the American Midwest during the 19th century, tells the story of two very unusual men coming together. Douglas Fortescue is a successful English poet who, fleeing accusations of sexual impropriety, has escaped to the seeming safety of America. Joshua Jenkyns is a wild, young outlaw, leader of his own gang who, against his father's wishes, learned how to read, starting with Lord Byron's poetry and moving on to none other than Douglas Fortescue. When Josh kidnaps Douglas during a stagecoach robbery, he begins an adventure that brings these two dissimilar men together in a manner neither ever expected. One of the most fascinating parts of this novel is Josh's insistence that the Missouri River is the source of Douglas' poems, based on the line he has memorized: "A swamp, a river, a muddy brown like coffee." While Josh assumes that Douglas must have known about the river in order to describe it so accurately, the poet himself never saw it until his abduction. As with all of his poetry, he got his vision of the river under the influence of opium and other mind-altering drugs. Christine Wunnicke successfully captures the rugged nature of the American frontier and the hard existence most residents endured. She slowly develops the relationship between Douglas and Josh, starting from apprehension on both sides, then moving to almost childlike affection, and finally to a passionate love affair. By the end of the novel, Douglas is forced to choose between his family, which seeks to rescue him from his kidnapper, and Josh, whom he has come to genuinely love. Missouri blends Americans and Englishmen, guns and poetry, cowboys and aristocrats, creating a compelling work that's both entertaining and thought-provoking. David Miller has produced a faithful translation from the German that flows well in English.