Washed in the Blood

Written by Lisa Alther
Review by Jo Ann Butler

Washed in the Blood is a saga spanning three centuries of the (as one character terms it) “racially ambiguous” descendants of Diego Martin who arrives in the New World on the heels of conquistador De Soto. He eventually settles in the region later known as the Squabble Lands, in the Appalachian area of southeastern United States. The book then skips a century to focus on Daniel Hunter, a Quaker who marries Galicia Martin, and then skips another century to present Hunter Martin and her half-brother Will Martin.

Each skip in time contributes to the ambiguity; no generation can trace its bloodline with exactitude. This not only leads to contradictory beliefs about the forefathers but also to opposing allegiances in the present. The main characters of each book are those who dig beneath what they’ve been told, usually in the face of an ethical dilemma precipitated by lust. Alther presents the magnitude of these dilemmas consistent with each character’s times and religious beliefs. Thus Diego goes to his authority figures for advice, Daniel searches for his “inner light,” and Hunter remembers her father’s antics in church. I was caught up in this book right from the first scene when Diego sees his dog swept overboard, and admired the way that Alther wove the natural progression of his grief with all the other events, impressions, and emotions he was going through. Despite the many sentences beginning with gerunds or the word ‘as’, I found Alther’s style rich and compelling. Recommended.