The Memory Weaver

Written by Jane Kirkpatrick
Review by Marie Burton

Jane Kirkpatrick’s historical novels re-imagine periods of time that many have forgotten, usually featuring important members of society from that particular era. The Memory Weaver brings us the story of Eliza Spalding, growing up among the wilderness of the Oregon Trail in the mid-1800s, and how she and her family dealt with the tragic Indian Massacre of 1847. The Spaldings were missionaries who traveled along with the Whitman family in order to bring the “Book of Heaven” to the Indians across the Rockies.

At age ten, Eliza witnesses the horrible tragedy when the Whitmans are killed along with about a dozen others, an event spurred by a measles outbreak among the Cayuse Indians. Throughout Eliza’s life, she relives certain traumatic memories and eventually learns to separate her belief about what originally happened from the reality. Her tenacity, loyalty, strength and devotion to her family are all traits that we come to admire about Eliza, and the struggles between the Indians and pioneers are just one of the themes interlaced throughout the story. Eliza’s relationships with her stubborn father, her sisters, and husband carry the story forward as we marvel at the hardships of the pioneer families.

Since the novel is written to closely mirror actual events, the final push towards the end focuses on Eliza’s need to find peace and understanding with her memories, which stalls enjoyment of the novel. Even still, the novel imparts an intriguing slice of America’s history with several tear-jerking moments as we recount Eliza’s steps as the first white baby to survive adulthood in the Oregon Territory.