Doubelday|April 5, 2011|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-1-4000-7429-7
A mother’s tragedy, a daughter’s desire and the 3,500 mile journey that changed their lives.
In 1896 a Norwegian-American, Helga Estby, accepted a wager from the fashion industry to walk from Spokane, Washington to New York City within seven months in an effort to earn $10,000. Bringing along her nineteen-year-old daughter, Clara, the two made their way on the 3,500-mile trek by following the railroad tracks and motivated by the money they needed to save the family farm. After returning home to the Estby farm more than a year later, Clara chose to walk on alone by leaving the family and changing her name. Her decision initiated a more than 20-year separation from the only life she had known.
Historical fiction writer, Jane Kirkpatrick, picks up where the fact of the Estby’s walk leaves off to explore Clara’s continued journey. What motivated Clara to take such a risk in an era when many women struggled with the issues of rights and independence? And what personal revelations brought Clara to the end of her lonely road? The Daughter’s Walk weaves personal history and fiction together to invite readers to consider their own journeys and family separations, to help determine what exile and forgiveness are truly about.
“Kirkpatrick has done impeccable homework and what she recreates and what she imagines are wonderfully seamless. Readers see the times, the motives, the relationships that produce a chain of decisions and actions, all rendered with understatement. Kirkpatrick is a master at using fiction to illuminate history’s truths. This beautiful and compelling work of historical fiction deserves the widest possible audience.” (Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review)
In 1896, Clara Estby, nineteen, is forced by her mother, Helga, on a 3,500-mile walk from Spokane, Washington to New York City. The women of this era wore long dresses and skirts that covered their ankles and most of their shoes. The dresses would be caked with mud or soaking wet at the hemline from inclement weather. Even in good weather, the long dresses accumulated a lot of dust and debris. Now the fashion icons are searching for women to promote their new, shorter dresses and Helga needs the $10,000 prize money for completing the walk on time in order to save their family farm from foreclosure.
This is actually a true story with fictionalized story lines interweaved into the narrative to fill in the blanks where research was not available or complete enough. Helga Estby was real – a Norwegian-American immigrant most noted for her walk across the United States in 1896. Helga arrived in Manistee, Michigan in 1871 and in 1876 she married Ole Estby who was an immigrant from Grue, Norway where his daughter, Clara would one day visit later on in the book.
The farm Helga was trying to save from foreclosure was located in Mica Creek, Spokane County, Washington. Ole, Helga’s husband had had an accident and couldn’t work so they couldn’t pay the taxes or the mortgage.
Clara did not want to go on this walk with her mother but she wasn’t given any choice. The only thing that Clara could see in the shorter skirts and absence of corsets: “…was that we could run faster from people chasing us for being foolish enough to embark on such a trek across the country, two women alone.” Helga had wanted Clara to join her on the walk to also prevent her from getting involved with men.
Ole was furious that his wife, Helga was taking on this walk and made his disgust and anger well-known. It would also mean that Helga would be away from her other 7 children – Lillian, Johnny, Billy, Arthur, Bertha, Ida, and Olaf – leaving the childcare to Ida and Olaf for a year!
During Helga and Clara’s walk, many family secrets were divulged and one in particular would change the course of young Clara’s life forever and cause her to change her name and initiate a twenty-year separation from her family, even her mother, Helga.
The first half of the book is dedicated entirely to the historically factual walk and the second half is dedicated to Clara after she leaves the family and becomes a businesswoman bent on creating her own family and becoming financially self-supporting.
It is glaringly obvious that Jane Kirkpatrick has done an amazing amount of research before writing this book. I was so enamoured with the story that once I was done, I did some research of my own and found her facts to be historically right on.
The Daughter’s Walk is a book that everyone should read and I’ll be recommending it to anyone and everyone. It was well-written and seamless. Kudos to Ms. Kirkpatrick. I think this is my “4th” favourite book I’ve read this year out of the 192 books I’ve read so far. This will definitely be part of my permanent collection. Excellent!!