In 1896, Clara Estby and her mother, Helga, set out on a 3,500-mile trek across America. The goal of the sponsors of this walk, the New York fashion industry, was to promote the new reform dress for women and to prove that women, too, had stamina. The goal of Helga Estby was to earn $10,000 to save the family farm.
A journey of this magnitude is sure to have consequences. For Clara and Helga, and for the family left behind, the cost is dear. But what about women and the fight for their rights and independence? Author Jane Kirkpatrick knits together biography and fiction seamlessly to create a novel that is truly historical fiction.
The initial premise of this novel was fascinating to me. I am a fan of Oregon Trail pioneer stories, and the walk that Helga and Clara undertake is very similar – only at a later point in history and done in reverse. However, the actual mother-daughter walk across America only takes up the first quarter of the book. The rest of the novel tells of the consequences and after-effects that occur as Clara becomes estranged from her family and tries to make it on her own. I enjoyed the walk part of the novel better than the second part. I would have liked for the story of the famous walk to have been more detailed.
Obviously this book is very realistic since it is based so closely on the actual events that occurred in the lives of Helga and Clara. The amount of historical research that was done for this novel is astounding, and I give the author high praise for staying as true to the story as she possibly could. As I said in my introduction, however, the biography/fiction aspect of this novel was seamless in its presentation. The novel felt biographical but still had enough of a fictional story, especially after the walk, to keep it going. The writing in this novel is good, and the characters come through loud and clear.
That being said, I was disappointed in this novel because I expected there to be a sense of triumph and hope, and to me, neither of these things came through. Ultimately, this family rift and the other consequences of the fated walk made the overall tone of the book depressing. The spiritual aspect of the story did not come through well, either. It felt as if God was just tacked on here and there, especially at the end, instead of the characters having a deep, lasting faith in Him.
The division that occurs in the family after the walk is just heartbreaking. I was saddened and frustrated by the grudges that were held for so long. Even at the end there didn’t seem to be much redemption or forgiveness, which left me feeling dissatisfied.
A message that is loudly heard in this novel is that of the early suffragist movement. Those who were most supportive of this historic walk, during and after, were suffragists. Clara’s ability to make an independent life for herself after the separation from her family was certainly an accomplishment, especially at this point in history.
Overall, this novel is an interesting, though somewhat discouraging, story of two determined women during a very dynamic time in history. However, I would have enjoyed more details of the walk itself rather than all of the hopeless drama that followed.
I will give The Daughter’s Walk … 2 ½ BookWorms.