Green Books Campaign: ‘River of Gold’ by Susan Dobbie
A compelling account of Hawaiian prospectors during the Canadian Gold Rush
This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.
Susan Dobbie’s River of Gold is a work of historical fiction based upon the experiences of immigrant gold prospectors during the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush, which took place from 1858 to 1860 in the Canadian province of British Columbia. A sequel to Dobbie’s 2003 novel When Eagles Call, River of Gold continues to follow the life of Kimo Kanui, a Kanaka (Native Hawaiian) who came, as hundreds of Hawaiians did, to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company in British Columbia. A widower and single father, Kimo – along with a fellow Kanaka, a former black slave from the American south and a native woman – struggles to eek out a small fortune in the rugged and unforgiving Canadian wilderness. What ensues is an eventful, if at times measured, account of a seemingly unlikely band of friends who confront hardship with cooperation and an optimistic resolve. It is a story of trust and of not giving up, despite austere natural conditions and at times outright hostility.
I say that a pair of Hawaiians, a black American and a native woman seems an unlikely band of friends, but history is full of surprises. The Canadian Gold Rushes brought immigrants, settlers and prospectors from around the world, as did British colonialism and the opening up of the New World. Kanakas, Hawaiian for ‘human being’, first came to the Northwest Coast in the 19th century to work in the Canadian and American fur trade.
Canadian journalist Tom Koppel has written extensively about this subject in his book Kanaka: The Untold Story of Hawaiian Pioneers in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. Between 1820 and 1850 the British-owned Hudson’s Bay Company employed many Hawaiians at isolated outposts in Native territories.
For those who enjoy historical fiction and are interested in some of the more unsung aspects of history, River of Gold offers a detailed view of what life may have been like for a Kanaka immigrant during the frontier times of British Columbia. Susan Dobbie manages to weave significant elements of social history into an adventurous and personal tale. Her skillful use of detail makes the wilderness come alive so much that you can almost feel the cold and smell the mud. Kimo and his friends are stoic and resourceful and their relationship offers an inspiring historical example for the increasingly multiethnic societies of today’s world.
River of Gold is printed using both FSC certified and recycled paper. The publisher, Ronsdale Press, is committed to protecting the environment and phasing out the use of paper from ancient forests.
River of Gold by Susan Dobbie, 2009 Ronsdale Press, 220 pages, format: trade paper, genre: historical fiction
By Graham Land