Poiema's Reviews > Chesapeake

Chesapeake by James A. Michener
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's review
Jan 29, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read in September, 2009

In his fictional history of Chesapeake Bay, James Michener takes you to the top of a large building and lets you watch the pageant of centuries pass like a parade beneath your gaze. Though you can see the details of individuals as they pass, your perspective predisposes you to see the broad sweep of centuries. It is an amazing amalgam of crooks and colonels, priests and pirates, fishermen and floozies, merchants and mechanics with the natural history of Chesapeake Bay providing the backdrop for it all.

I am amazed by the extensive research and detail contained in this epic work (1,083 pages!), yet never do the facts present themselves overtly. Always, they are packaged as part of the intricate web of life woven within the history of three founding families. Their diverse backgrounds and idiosyncracies are destined to intertwine as the generations unfold and the telling is a treat for all armchair adventurers. I closed the book with a profound sense of awe; Michener brought forth a vivid sense of understanding that individuals are both the product of those who have preceded them and the predictor of what lies ahead.

Each person occupies only a small and fleeting role in history, but one life can color the entire sweep of a generation. What if the first English settler had taken the lovely Indian princess as bride, instead of waiting for his proper English wife to arrive by boat some years later? How would the Quaker family line have been affected if the patriarch had capitulated to the pressure to build boats for the purpose of slave trading?

Momentous decisions face every generation, but seldom are the players cognizant of the truth that their decisions are not trivial---they deeply affect posterity. I'm encouraged by my glimpse into the Chesapeake saga because it is ultimately an affirmation that life matters; and by extension--yes MY life matters, too.

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