The Dark Side of the Mountain

Written by Bonnie S. Johnston
Review by Anna Belfrage

In the mid eighteenth century, a young couple named Michael and Anna Mallow arrive in Pennsylvania, two of the many who have left the Old World behind in search of a new life. Michael is ambitious, he wants his children to inherit a better world, and he very quickly grows out of the original homestead, tempted to go further west, to distant western Virginia where the land grants are bigger.

His wife does not want to move. To her, the journey from Germany to Pennsylvania was sufficiently arduous, and she is frightened by the whispers of unrest among the native tribes. But an eighteenth-century wife has little say in the major decisions in life, so reluctantly she agrees to her husband’s plans.

Their new home is smack in the middle of the war brewing between the French and English, with the displaced local tribes joining the French in a desperate attempt to wrest their lands back from the settlers. White colonists are murdered, women and children are abducted, and Anna lives with a tightening noose of fear round her neck – until the day when everything she feared would happen does, with her carried off to captivity with some of her children while the younger three lie dead.

The Dark Side of the Mountain is a meticulously researched story about real-life people and the devastating events that destroyed their lives. Covering close to two decades, the narrative is somewhat fragmented, offering brief glimpses of Anna’s life at various dates. Third person narrative is mixed with first person, but despite the drama of Anna’s life, the characters remain somewhat flat – their emotions are described rather than actually experienced, and at times their reactions are not entirely convincing. What six-year-old boy, recent witness to the brutal murder of his baby sister, to the scalping of his playmates, would after a mere three days regard his Indian abductors with affection?

The story, however, is gripping and The Dark Side of the Mountain serves as an excellent introduction to a turbulent period in American history, the misadventures of one woman and her family representing the experiences of many, many more.

E-edition reviewed