Once upon a time in Los Angeles, water was everywhere—in rivers that rendered the vast plain marsh and woodland; in underground streams that provided an abundance of water for people, cattle, orchards and vineyards. The American Henry Scott encounters this fertile landscape in When Water Was Everywhere. Arriving in the Mexican pueblo of Los Angeles in 1842, he meets Don Rodrigo Tilman (based on the historical John Temple). Scott becomes the foreman of Tilman’s newly-purchased cattle ranch along the Los Angeles River, the present day Rancho Los Cerritos. As Scott learns about ranchos and cattle, vaqueros and Indians, Mexican California and Tongva Indian village life come alive under Barbara Crane’s deft grasp of narrative and history. Tilman, Scott, Big Headed Girl (a young Tongva Indian woman) and Padre José’s (a Franciscan friar) unfolding stories assure the novel’s themes of loss, hope and redemption resonate from every page.
Barbara Crane is an author with dual passions that straddle the centuries. She merges her two passions in her award-winning novel, "When Water Was Everywhere." The early California landscape and the people who occupy it are longingly recalled in descriptions of a time when water truly was everywhere--in rivers that rendered the vast plain a marsh; in underground streams that provided abundant drinking water. This lush landscape inspires those committed to restoring Southern California's natural habitats today.
Barbara explains...I have always lived off my skills with the written word -- as a freelance journalist, a business writer, corporate trainer, consultant and technical writer.
But my words were never just a way to earn a living. When the work day was done, I was often at my desk at home where I wrote short stories, creative nonfiction, journal pieces, brief memoirs of travel to Peru, Japan, France, Britain, Tanzania, India, Nepal, Costa Rica, Canada and the 40 or more American cities I visited. I have published fiction and creative non-fiction in newspapers and literary magazines, sometimes winning prizes. I also wrote two novels. "The Oldest Things in the World" was published in 2001 and won a Silver Medal award from ForeWord magazine, and "When Water Was Everywhere" which was published by Lagoon House Press in 2016.
Writing gives meaning and purpose to my life but, I have a number of other passions. I am concerned about the rights of indigenous people, worldwide. I love to hike and to cook (not at the same time!). I enjoy cultivating a drought-resistant garden. I love spending time with good friends, and visit art and cultural museums wherever I go. I am continually fascinated by people, the lives we make for ourselves, the challenges we face and the people we love. I live in Southern California with my husband and family.
I don't read a lot of westerns, but this historical novel ticks the boxes of what I imagine the genre to require. There's a silent protagonist trying to make his way in a gritty and unforgiving world; there are people of greater or lesser moral turpitude who highlight his essential goodness; and all must confront the Wild in order to find a way to survive. And all of this made me wish I read more westerns, because reading this book was such an absorbing and satisfying experience.
The tale begins with Henry Scott, a young man who has made the journey from Saint Louis to the nascent pueblo of Los Angeles in the 1840s, arriving half dead. He is taken up by a local merchant of substance, given shelter and then a job. Scott despite his youth is deeply scarred, and so socially inept that his sterling character takes some time to become apparent. His employer is driven by carefully concealed vanity, but Scott is too lost in his own fears to make any kind of assessment of the man he's working for. Nevertheless, and despite a lack of applicable skills, he stumbles into success as the foreman of the ranch his employer is creating a day's journey south of the pueblo. Scott is tasked with supervising the vaqueros who tend the cattle and the Indians who are building the house. Though the vaqueros remain beyond his management, Scott earns the fealty of the Indian laborers by virtue of not being gratuitously abusive. In turn, he becomes fascinated with one of the Indian women, named Big Headed Girl.
At this point the story takes a turn, for we leave Scott's story for a time and turn to hers. This can be a tricky strategy for a novelist, but Barbara Crane shows herself in firm command of vocabulary, tone, and point of view as she depicts Alta California as seen through the eyes of its original human inhabitants. The shift takes us from a world in which the land's potential seems limitless to one marked by accelerating loss and scarcity. The section of the book that is told from Big Headed Girl's vantage point is riveting and heartbreaking.
There is a third narrator after that, an aging padre in charge of the Mission San Gabriel just as control of the missions is being wrested away from the clergy. In the end the three stories converge in a poignant scene set against a backdrop of heedless revelry. It is a suitably restrained climax to a story marked by characters who all seem unable to reveal their true self to others.
The prose is straightforward and readable but eloquently evokes the setting. Based on what I know about Los Angeles in this era and the natural history of the region and its indigenous people, the author's research is excellent but she rarely hits you over the head with her knowledge. Instead the story felt grounded in a well-realized place, the characters' actions and beliefs suited to the time they inhabit.
I deeply enjoyed reading this book, which I won in a giveaway. As someone who has spent her career as an editor, I shake my head anew at the obtuseness of an industry that relegates a book this good to the backwaters of the publishing world. It deserves far more recognition than it has received.
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Sometimes a writer cannot resist showing off their research. Any book, particularly a historical novel, requires a great deal of reading if the past it presents is realistic. Often this is a problem because it means the author forgot to come up with a compelling plot. This does not have to be the case, as Barbara Crane proves in When Water Was Everywhere. Set in 1840s Los Angeles, her novel uses the realization of the Californios that the United States would probably soon take over control of their province (then still a part of Mexico). Some hopeful, others fearful, all await the changes this transfer will cause.
As with any good California story, there is a clash of cultures here. Young Henry Scott, escaping an abusive father back East, arrives in the pueblo looking for work. Don Rodrigo Tilman, another American expatriate, becomes his patron and hires him to build his new rancho. In doing so, Henry meets the people of Los Angeles from Mexican vaqueros to a Franciscan friar who embodies both the cruelty of the mission system and the love of this paradise. Most importantly, the strong-willed Tongva woman he meets at the rancho and comes to love. Henry's experiences show the beauty of the land and the ways in which it could be deceptive to those who loved it.
Barbara Crane's research is on display throughout the book. Her chapters on Tongva life are especially thorough. She even makes a Los Angeles with plentiful water believable. None of this distracts from her story. When Water Was Everywhere provides an affecting look at a paradise in transition and the people who will be shaped by it.
When Water was Everywhere is rich in observations about the California landscape, its history, and its foliage. Crane does a superb job of reminding us that challenges of love and power, greed, Mother Nature, and authority are not limited to 21st century life. She deftly manages points of view as diverse as a young Tongva Indian woman, an aging priest, and a wealthy rancher.. Her descriptions are lush, perhaps best exemplified in the admiration of passion flowers. As stories overlap and converge, the reader finds herself immersed in a time and place so foreign, and yet so close. Crane captures both the immensity of the landscape and the intimacy of human relationships, to provide a most satisfying, uplifting, and ultimately educational read.
Barbara Crane's historical fiction is so well detailed and researched that I found myself actually learning about California while enjoying a beautiful read. There are many poignant moments in which the author gives the reader a taste of cultures--Indian, Spanish, Mexican---and the clashing of cultures which is so apropos today. Crane's use of terminology of the times (1800's) is authentic; her study of the priests, their claim on converting the Indians, and the fall of the missions is a history that repeats itself over and over again. I would recommend this book to middle and high school students as well. There's much that I learned here.
I love to read historical fiction, especially when I learn something new. This story is set in early California and weaves the story of four individuals: an wealthy rancher, a transplanted easterner, a native american and a mission padre. Despite being engrossed in the lives of these four characters, I enjoyed the glimpse into life in California before the movie cameras rolled in. The history was fascinating to this Canadian.
There is a tremendous amount of history in this book. I learned a great deal about the missions in California and the Mexico/Texas conflict. We get the story from different characters...a transplant from Missouri, a padre at the local mission, and various others. I found it a bit difficult to follow at times, but in the long run, I am glad I stayed with it. I received my copy free through Goodreads giveaway.
LOVE LOVE LOVE this book. It made me really think about the fragile and often tortured souls who opted to traverse the U.S. to settle in a wild and unknown, and often inhospitable, land of California. Great character development and setting descriptions. It stays with me.