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The High Divide

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In 1886, Gretta Pope wakes one morning to discover that her husband is gone. Ulysses Pope has left his family behind on the far edge of Minnesota's western prairie, with only the briefest of notes and no explanation for why he left or where he's headed. It doesn't take long for Gretta's young sons, Eli and Danny, to set off after him, following the scant clues they can find, jumping trains to get where they need to go, and ending up in the rugged badlands of Montana. Short on money and beleaguered by a treacherous landlord, Gretta has no choice but to seek out her sons and her husband as well, leading her to the doorstep of a woman who seems intent on making Ulysses her own. While out in the Western wilderness, the boys find that the closer they come to Ulysses's trail, the greater the perils that confront them--until each is faced with a choice about whom they will defend, and who they will become. Enger's breathtaking portrait of the vast plains land- scape is matched by the rich expanse of his characters' emotional terrain, as pivotal historical events--the bloody turmoil of expansionism, the near total demise of the bison herds, and the subjugation of the Plains Indians--blend seamlessly with the intimate story of a family's sacrifice and devotion.

332 pages, Hardcover

First published September 23, 2014

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About the author

Lin Enger

14 books58 followers
Lin Enger has published two previous novels, Undiscovered Country and The High Divide, a finalist for awards from the Midwest Booksellers Association, the Society of Midland Authors, and Reading the West. His stories have been published in literary journals such as Glimmer Train, Ascent, and American Fiction. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he has received a James Michener Award, a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship, and a Jerome travel grant. He teaches English at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

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5 stars
348 (19%)
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777 (42%)
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551 (30%)
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126 (6%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 312 reviews
Profile Image for Jessaka.
889 reviews121 followers
March 15, 2018
When Greta and her teo sons woke up the next morning he was gone. It couldn’t have hurt more, but Greta knew that Ulysses was leaving, maybe it was the way he acted the night before, the fight they had had, or something he had said. Her youngest son by 5 years ran off to find him, but his brother Eli dragged him back home, kicking and screaming. Two months went by, but he still hadn’t returned, never wrote, and never even sent money. Greta had the rent to pay, needed food for the boys. What kind of man just walks off from his family like this?

Then one day a letter came, not from Eli’s father but from a woman who had written to his father, and Eli intercepted it. Maybe he was with her now. Eli packed a bag, some food and some clothes, and then like his father, he walked out into the night. Danny again followed. And then Greta had to find her sons. And at first it seemed like a fun adventure, the boys hopping trains, meeting people along the way, surviving, and Greta taking what money she had and buying a ticket on the train so she could find her boys.

Eli’s dad Ulysses was haunted by the war, Custer’s war. What happened that he couldn’t talk to his wife about it? Why did it cause him to just get up and leave? I thought, “Who did he kill, women and children?” These are the things that haunt a man who has been in a war. But maybe it was something different.

In time we learn that Ulysses is picking up buffalo bones in the wilderness in order to sell them. I thought of how he was helping remove every last bit of evidence of the slaughter of these majestic creatures. It has never been the same, what is lost is lost, just as it won’t be the same for Uylsses and his family after all that had happened. It can’t be.

Yesterday, my husband and I drove to the edge of town where they have a new development going in; it had always been a place to walk our dog. Large oak trees had been cut down and put into a pile and had sat there for two years, bleached. My husband saw firewood; I saw buffalos rotting and bleached bones.

Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,612 reviews2,580 followers
November 16, 2014
Enger’s second novel, set in 1886, ranges from Minnesota to Montana to track a herd of buffalo – and one family seeking to make amends. Atmosphere is key; the book works well as a snapshot of a particular time and place. Sacrifice, family loyalty, remorse, and being or treating a stranger are all strong themes. Enger also exposes the shadow side of legends: General Custer does not seem such a heroic figure once details of the Washita Indian massacre come to light, and Ulysses’s name reminds readers that myths (Homer’s Odyssey) do not always end rosily.

With its poetic descriptive language and authentic yet slightly archaic vocabulary (chifforobe, spraddle-legged), The High Divide fits clearly into the tradition of the modern literary Western, a lineage that includes John Williams’s Butcher’s Crossing and, more recently, Philipp Meyer’s The Son. Perhaps it is most memorable, however, as a story of enduring family ties and the possibility of new beginnings, in spite of trauma.

(Non-subscribers can read an excerpt of my full review at BookBrowse.)
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,738 reviews14.1k followers
November 20, 2014
All the flavors and atmosphere of the Old West. Flashbacks regarding Custer and his atrocities against the Indians and William Barnaby, from the Smithsonian who wants to kill and stuff as many buffaloes as he can before they disappear completely. Set in 1886, starting in Minnesota, we meet Greta Pope, a woman alone now that her husband has left, whereabouts unknown. Her two sons taking off to track down their father, Ulysses. Yes, another Ulysses off on his own quest, leaving his wife in dire straits, unable to pay the rent and leaving her to the mercies of the owner, who wants to own Greta. So from the beginning I was more than a little angry at Ulysses.

This was a time of itinerant traveling preachers, one whose message seems to change Ulysses. Where woman alone had very little recourse and the easiest way to travel was by boxcar. Ultimately it is a novel of forgiveness and redemption as we find out the reasons for Ulysses's flight. Loved their two sons, such wonderful characters and admired the strength of Greta. Can Greta find it in her heart to forgive and find a way for their family to once again become complete?

Profile Image for Cher.
801 reviews275 followers
April 12, 2015
2 stars - Meh. Just ok.

I didn't find this one to be deeply moving and it certainly was not gripping, so the synopsis is a bit misleading. I liked it enough to read through to the end though I never felt very connected to the story and the ending was far from being a saving grace. For me, it was a passable, but overall very slow story.

Favorite Quote: N/A.

First Sentence: That summer was cool and windless, the clouds unrelenting, as if God had reached out his hand one day and nudged the sun from its rightful place.
704 reviews13 followers
February 2, 2015

Lin Enger has written a classic novel of family disorder in nineteenth century United States centering in the vastness of Minnesota, the Dakotas and Montana. It’s not a new story; a man driven by hidden urges leaves his wife and young boys and disappears. That wasn’t uncommon for the time as poverty and restlessness dominated many lives and caused emotional separations. Many books have been written on this theme.

Enger’s characterizations pull this novel above the norm and features a father with strange influences that pull him, two boys, one strong willed and the other, equally strong but weakened by frailness, and a plucky wife and mother who never abandons the hope of regaining solid and united family ties. The boys leave home without telling their mother, with the intention of locating their father, and endure the privation of travel through a vast landscape of rugged terrain, frigid weather, and scant food. Mother follows, finding clues to their whereabouts that are both frustrating and troubling to her effort of unifying her family.

Enger has the knack of creating realistic dialogue, indelible portraits of a wild country, and personification of his characters that conveys ambition, fidelity, and indomitable will. This is a memorable story that sings with a familial closeness that rises above constant questions stirred by the strong feelings of abandonment.

There are great moments of insight in the story, along with heroic actions by the boys that bring warmth and empathy to their journey. I strongly recommend reading this intriguing and uplifting novel.

Profile Image for Mary.
644 reviews1 follower
January 11, 2015
Set against the backdrop of the American West, this quiet book is about one man's all-consuming quest for redemption and how it affects his wife and two sons. The writing is lovely and the characters are complex, interesting, and believable. The boys, especially, deserve more page time. They do a lot of growing up within the framework of the story, and their journey to find their father intrigued me more than other aspects of the story. Though I couldn't quite support the main character's unexplained decision to leave his family - a conversation seemed necessary (and practical!), I can see why the author chose to plot the book the way he did. The ending was beautiful: understated and very touching. Earned this book another half star from me!

Profile Image for Carol.
88 reviews2 followers
July 1, 2015
This is a story of a journey, a man's quest for redemption. Ulysses leaves his home in Western Minnesota in 1886, without telling his wife or sons. He simply disappears into the Dakotas. With little to go on, his young sons go after him without a word to their mom. Then Gretta, Ulysses wife also leaves, hoping to find answers back in St. Paul where she met him right after the Civil War, hoping to find her boys and her husband. The novel is the story of a man hiding his past from his family, of a son searching for his father while he cares for his 10 year old brother, and a wife who doubts the man she loves

This novel has stayed with me and I continue to return to the West so beautifully described by the author. I keep thinking of the family, of the event that sent Ulysses searching for redemption. I think of the other regrettable actions described in the book and how we, the people of the United States failed the Native Americans and failed what once was the West.

One of the better novels I've read in a long time. A thoughtful, evocative, and profound novel. Must read more by him.
Profile Image for Andrew Wolgemuth.
681 reviews72 followers
March 26, 2019
Nothing to see here - just another lovely Western(ish) drama about cheap grace and forgiveness and vulnerability and courage and marriage and family and journeys. Just another tremendous Enger novel...you've seen this before.
Profile Image for Rod Reed.
44 reviews1 follower
December 6, 2022
Lin Enger takes the reader to the 19th century frontier and builds layered characters you care about. A great read. I want to read more from him.
Profile Image for Sam Sattler.
974 reviews40 followers
August 20, 2014
"The High Divide" is the story of a man with a past, a past that he is embarrassed to share with his wife and sons, a past that haunts him so continuously and so badly that he is compelled to find a way to make things right - or die trying. This is why early one 1886 morning, with only a hidden note left behind to mark his leaving, Ulysses Pope leaves his Minnesota home behind, effectively abandoning his wife and sons to the mercy of the man who owns the mortgage on the Pope home - a man not above using that leverage to gain favor's from Pope's wife.

Gretta Pope is determined to do whatever she has to do to take care of her two sons, Eli and Danny. Anything. But when she wakes up one morning not long after her husband's disappearance and finds herself completely alone, she is determined to find her sons. Did her husband sneak back into town and kidnap them or did they go looking for him? She has no idea, but Gretta is a strong woman and she is not going to stop searching for the truth - and her sons - until she finds out exactly what is happening.

As the search for Ulysses Pope unfolds, author Lin Enger tells his story from three simultaneous points-of-view: that of Ulysses Pope himself, that of his two sons, and that of his wife. Eventually, the paths of the various family members will cross and intermix. But before "The High Divide" reaches its emotional climax, the reader will be carried on an adventure spanning the state of Minnesota and the Dakota and Montana territories - an adventure during which the Pope boys grow into young men, Gretta Pope learns exactly who she married, and Ulysses Pope manages to quiet his demons, if not dispose of them. The ultimate question is not will the Pope family ever be the same; the real question is whether or not it can even survive Ulysses Pope's quest.

"The High Divide" is a remarkable piece of historical fiction that takes place in an America not quite ready for the twentieth century. I highly recommend this one.
Profile Image for Marvin.
1,906 reviews57 followers
September 13, 2014
This novel by Lin Enger, brother of Leif Enger, the author of the wonderful Peace Like a River, is reminiscent of that one. Set in 1886, it's the story of a family--father, mother, two teenaged sons--dealing with the father's desertion. The two boys set out from their home in western Minnesota for the West in search of their father, and eventually the mother does so as well. Meanwhile, we learn of the father's pilgrimage to come to terms with his soldier past. In the course of the story, all four members of the family learn much about themselves and their relationship with each other. The conservationist William Hornaday and his 1886 mission to hunt what he believes are the last surviving buffalo play an important supporting role in the story. At times a little too neat and unbelievable, it's nonetheless a powerful family story.
Profile Image for Nan Williams.
1,441 reviews72 followers
November 4, 2014
This one just didn't do it for me. I struggled through the first half before deciding that whatever the deep dark secrets were, was not worth my time and effort.

I'm sorry. It was boring, boring, boring. All I got out of the first half was that there were secrets being concealed from everyone. Not my kind of book nor my journey in life.

I think this whole "secret" business got started with the "Secret Life of Bees." Since that time, many and multiple authors have jumped on that bandwagon and tried to make a go of building a plot around "secrets." I'm really tired of this. I enjoyed "Secret Life of Bees," but have not enjoyed any of the copy-cats nor wanna-bees.
292 reviews2 followers
October 24, 2018
I enjoyed this book from start to finish. I would describe this book as a Western, but there are so many layers to it. It's hard for me to pick a favorite character, but I think I liked the oldest son the most and for him and his younger brother, this is a coming-of-age story. Again, there are many layers to the novel and the brothers' point of view is just one. It was bittersweet for me to read about the beauty and freedom of the American West and the atrocities committed in the name of westward expansion.
19 reviews1 follower
October 29, 2019
There's something compelling about this story. Maybe it's Ulysses thinking he can absolve himself of the terrible crime he has committed by confessing, or maybe it's the maturing of two boys or maybe a wife trying not to be suspicious but forgiving. This story reminded me of Lonesome dove in its setting and its characters. This is the first book I've read by Lin Enger, but it won't be the last
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
45 reviews
January 7, 2022
Slightly boring and plot dumb. Chasing across the west searching for a man whose family you murdered? How do you think that's going to end? On the bright side, the writing was good.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Karlajansenmiller.
83 reviews1 follower
February 17, 2022
Glad I happened across this tale. All thanks to a search to see what else his brother has written.
Profile Image for Marian Bart.
159 reviews
January 24, 2018
At the library, I kindof picked this book by mistake, but I am so glad I did. It is consistently interesting, rich in meaning, and beautifully constructed.
Profile Image for Laura (booksnob).
934 reviews35 followers
January 18, 2016
The High Divide by Lin Enger

Ulysses Pope has a secret past that is haunting him. He is a veteran from the Civil War living in a small home with his wife and two children in a Northern Minnesotan town called Sloan's Crossing in 1886. Ulysses is restless and after a argument with his wife, Greta he leaves and doesn't return home. He is headed West to atone for his sins and make peace with his soul. He travels through North Dakota to meet up with an old friend and then he plans to go to Montana, to the Northern Cheyenne reservation to meet up with a man from his past called, Magpie.

His boys, Eli and Danny take off after their father, to bring him home. They are desperate to find him and find out why he hasn't returned They wonder if their is another woman and when they intercept a letter, they hop the train and head West to follow Ulysses's trail.

Gretta Pope is hopeless without her boys and wondering what has happened in her marriage to cause Ulysses to leave and not return. She heads to St. Paul, where they first met, to find him. There she encounters his sister and learns the truth of Ulysses service in the army and she wonders what other lies he has told her. She sets out on a journey West to find her boys.

The High Divide is historical fiction at its finest. The High Divide combines historical events with the drama of the old west, the love of family and the pivotal decisions we must face. The story of the Pope family is layered, with the chapters rotating in voice and setting. The High Divide is compelling and captivating. The three distinct voices give you a story that propels you to turn each page with anticipation.

Lin Enger is an awesome storyteller and good writing runs in the family as his brother (Leif Enger) has some really awesome books too. I learned so much about the history and geography of the West and about the Smithsonian and the demise of the buffalo. The High Divide is an action packed, mystery of the west, a re-imagining of Homer's Odyssey, and a story of love and forgiveness. The writing is poetic and evocative and Enger handles the loss of the American Indian land and their subsequent decimation with a caring consciousness.

The High Divide is a rich portrayal of the American West and the impact of westward expansion on the American Indian.

I have a cool unexpected connection to The High Divide by Lin Enger. Coming up this July in 2016, I am chaperoning a trip to Montana to do service work on the Northern Cheyenne reservation. I had no idea when I started reading this book that I would going to some of the places in it and now I feel excitement and a desire to visit the reservation and other places, like Miles City, Little Big Horn, the Badlands and more. I love it when what you read connects to your life. I am recommending this book to everyone who is traveling with me. You should read it too.
Profile Image for Shannon.
985 reviews29 followers
October 28, 2014
This book has its good points and a few not so good ones. It's a fairly interesting subject and a great setting. The beginning with all the mystery was the best part for me and it got me to really want to keep reading. But then some of the bad kicked in. The mystery was mostly solved about halfway through, and when it was, there was little driving the plot. Yes, there were still things for us to learn, but they weren't very interesting and I didn't care enough about the characters to really worry if they were going to be happy in the end. Another not so good is the writing, which is fine most of the time, if slightly long winded, but which bothered me on occasion when phrases like "he produced x from his pocket magically" cropped up. It wasn't magic. Seriously, can't it be "as if by magic"? This night be nit picky, but it seriously bothered me on several occasions. One other thing that I wish had been slightly better was the pace. It's not the most exciting of stories on its best day, so parts of it definitely lagged at times. This would have been okay had it been a slow burn type of book, but there was pretty much no climax, at least not an exciting one, so it kinda felt like a slow burn, almost a boil, and then someone turned the burner off and it never actually boiled.
I realize this sounds negative, but it's not a bad book by any means. It just isn't exactly my favorite type of book and I really need some good characters and a bit of excitement to keep me going. If a calm ride is something you enjoy, I recommend this.
Profile Image for Linda.
118 reviews
October 31, 2014
WOW! From the first sentence -"that summer was cool and windless, the clouds unrelenting, as if God had reached out his hand one day and nudged the sun from its rightful place"- to the prophetic words of Magpie a plains Indian warrior -"What we did was good and what we had to do - but it didn't change things." Magpie laid a palm across his chest. "Not for me. I could see that even if I did have a son,I would have no world for him," I was hooked and in love with this book.

It transports the reader to that mystical, melancholy time after the Indian wars. To a life long forgotten and mostly misunderstood. The story of Ulysses personal agony and search for redemption despite its cost is expertly crafted. The characters are fully rounded and engrossing. The world they populate is so tightly woven it feels like a cloak of fantasy. I could smell, taste and feel the loss of the Indian world, the colours were painted in such vivid hues by Mr. Enger.

I highly recommend this beautiful book and will read it again. It wasn't what I expected and just a joy to read - I couldn't put it down. This was the best fictional books about the old west I've ever read. Thanks so much for the advanced reader copy. Best book I've read this year by far! Well done Mr Enger!!! Well done.
Profile Image for Mandy.
3,152 reviews266 followers
December 9, 2014
When Gretta Pope wakes one morning to discover her husband Ulysses has disappeared, her sons Eli and Danny decide to go and find him. When time goes by and no news comes from her boys or her husband and finding herself in an increasingly precarious financial situation, she sets off in pursuit. What follows is a gripping and often very moving story about love and family and loyalty. Set against a backdrop of the Great Plains, with vivid descriptions of the landscape and a real sense of the time and place, it’s an old-fashioned western narrative, a quest story, a coming-of-age story and one of redemption and atonement. Memorable characters and a compelling storyline, with many of the eternal American themes of conquest and adventure, plus the battle with the Native Americans and the destruction of the buffalo herds, it’s a convincing and thoroughly enjoyable novel. Much of its authenticity is due to it being based to some extent on the Hornaby expedition of 1886 and the Washita incident, real historical events, and some of the characters in the book are based on real people. It is nevertheless a work of fiction and one for the reader to become immersed in. I loved it.
Profile Image for Sara.
300 reviews4 followers
February 7, 2017
"A story to get lost in," says the blurb on the cover, and that was certainly true. I loved this story and its characters.

1. This sounds particularly relevant to our day: "Men have a weakness that way, a need to find some king or preacher, a politician or a general, and then offer themselves up to him. It’s a human trait that’s come to make me ill. Respect where it’s due, now that’s one thing. But listen here—don’t be quick to look up to a man who seems to take pleasure in your looking up to him."
2. How prone we are to believe the worst in someone we love after we have been hurt by them versus the willingness to look at the whole story and the motives involved (the conversation at the end between Gretta and May).
3. The Enger brothers have risen to the top of my favorite living writers list.
Profile Image for Marjorie DeLuca.
Author 12 books93 followers
October 24, 2014
The High Divide is a gentle, beautifully structured novel set mainly in the western frontier, and reminiscent of works by the great Canadian writer, Guy Vanderhaaghe.
Lin Enger tells the story of a family living in Minnesota in the late 19th century. At the opening, the father walks out out one morning and doesn't return leaving his wife and two sons to cope in his absence and to wonder why he left. The two sons set out to find him leaving their mother alone and vulnerable. Soon she sets out in pursuit of her sons. Their travels take them to wild frontier country in Montana, and a land still recovering from the near extinction of the buffalo and the impact of the Indian wars.
This is a story about a man trying to come to terms with the senseless slaughter of war and to find forgiveness for an act of brutal violence. Enger's style is confident, smooth and meticulous research gives this a wonderful and authentic sense of setting, transporting the reader back 130 years to the early years of the west. A great read!
Profile Image for Cindy.
1,462 reviews21 followers
October 7, 2014

Set in the American West in 1886 The High Divide is a western although not your typical western. Ulysses Pope abandons his family (or does he?) in the beginning of the story. He is searching for redemption--to right a wrong that has been weighing on his mind. Gretta Pope, his wife, wonders why he left as she struggles to keep her family and home together. Her sons, Eli and Danny, sneak away one night to find their father. Soon after Gretta leaves her home to find her sons and find answers.

It took me awhile to get into this book but as the story unfolded I was hooked. Strong characters, inner turmoil, innocence, and history of the Great Plains were compelling and fascinating. I like Engers writing style and his descriptions of the western terrain.

The High Divide is a story of redemption, sacrifice and family devotion..I love the last few chapters of the book! I won this book from LibraryThing! 3.5 stars
Profile Image for Grace.
263 reviews7 followers
September 5, 2014
ok wow. So up until now, Peace Like a River by Leif Enger has been one of my favorite books, but now his brother Lin comes across with this one that is right up there next to it. Amazing talent in this family! Ulysses Pope leaves one day and doesn't return; his wife and two sons wait until their money is pretty much gone. The boys can't stand waiting and hop a train, looking for their dad, and eventually Gretta, the left-behind wife, follows as well. With no one really knowing where Ulysses went or why, it's pretty amazing that they all head in the same direction, but they do. The story of why Ulysses left (it's not for another woman) and how this family fights to stay together is a beautiful story of redemption. When I say this is Christian fiction, don't get me wrong; it's not that genre stuff they sell at Christian bookstores. It's the real deal, in the tradition of the best contemporary Christian writers.
Profile Image for Karyl.
1,720 reviews119 followers
May 22, 2015
I understand that this is supposed to be one of those slow-burn novels, one that sucks you in gradually with lyrical writing as you read, not one that blasts you out of your seat with adventure. The problem is, the burn never occurred. Not only was the plot rather plodding and slow, but the characters seemed so flat and uninteresting. It was difficult for me to differentiate between them, and to remember some of the flashbacks that explained their behavior. I couldn't get a sense of who anyone was, though there were glimmers where Ulysses Pope would start to really shine, but then he was submerged by the fog that is the rest of the novel once more.

I kept reading mainly because I hate giving up on a novel, and while I wasn't interested or even invested in the plot, it was still a relatively quick read.

Very disappointed in this book.
381 reviews
November 12, 2014
I had to read this; the author was my advisor in college. I didn't like it as much as his brother's Peace Like a River. This didn't flow as well. The sense of adventure got caught up in too many words. I liked the sons in the story. I thought they were real and sympathetic. I didn't find the wife very sympathetic (despite her bad lot) and didn't care much for the husband. You don't abandon your family for months to right a wrong. It was noble to reach out to the Cheyenne man, but didn't have to create so much destruction in his own family.
Profile Image for Melody.
349 reviews16 followers
January 19, 2015
What a terrific setting and time period to read about. While the South was just emerging from Reconstruction and the Industrial Revolution was in full force, the west/midwest was still recovering from the addition of battles with Native Americans and mass destruction of the bison population. In The High Divide, much of this is backdrop. The Pope family is thrust into turmoil when the father leaves home without warning, and these relationships (internally and externally) pull the reader through the novel. It was a quiet book, with writing similar to Robert Morgan, full of heart and home.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 312 reviews

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