When her dreams of becoming a woman of influence as the wife of a Congressman come crashing down around her, Sophia Mackinoff makes a rash decision. She signs up to be a missionary, thinking she will be going to China. Originally from Russia, Sophia thinks she will serve in China for a few years and then make her way back to her homeland. When the Mission Board sends her to be a teacher to the children of the Ponca Indian Tribe in Dakota Territory, she is sure it is a mistake.
The more time Sophia spends with the Poncas, the more she grows to love them. Her students are bright and eager to learn even while their circumstances break Sophia’s heart. The man who has been the carpenter in the Ponca tribe for three years, Will Dunn, has a heart for the people as well. As he and Sophia work with this peaceful tribe, they get to know each other better, and they wonder if there could be more in store for them in the future than just a friendship.
The Poncas live with the constant threat of removal from their homeland. What will become of the tribe – and of Will and Sophia – if this threat becomes a reality?
I very much have conflicting feelings about this book.
On the one hand, the novel was rich in historical detail and feeling. The events that are described in this novel actually happened to the Ponca tribe, and some of the characters were real people (Standing Bear, for one). I truly felt for the Poncas and the horrible treatment they received at the hand of the U.S. government. I appreciated the feelings that Will and Sophia had towards this native tribe, especially how Sophia’s love for the people grew throughout the novel. In addition, Sophia’s growth in her reliance on God was inspiring. I liked the characters of Will and Sophia, and I was cheering for them all the way.
On the other hand, there were things about this novel that were distracting. While I liked both Will and Sophia, and I appreciated their journey to each other, I’m not sure I got to know them as well as I would have liked. I’m not really sure why this was the case. Maybe it was because a lot of the writing felt disjointed. Some scenes were quite vague while others were told with great description. The dialogue was also very difficult to follow at times. I’m hoping that this was because I was reading a digital galley – the paragraph structure is not always true to form in those – but sometimes I couldn’t tell who was talking because the speaker was not identified. I don’t think the dialogue issue was because of the galley. I also thought that Will and Sophia’s part of the story got a long towards the end.
The spiritual side of the story was a bit confusing to me at times, too. It was hard for me to tell if the Native Americans were considered Christians because they had accepted Christ or because they went to church and had become more ‘civilized.’ I realize that many of the missionaries of that time were misguided in that aspect – that they just wanted to force the tribes to ‘become white’ and therefore Christian, which, of course, is way off the mark. Sophia and Will didn’t necessarily think that way, but it was still unclear a lot of the time whether any of the characters in the book had a true relationship with Christ or whether they just called themselves Christians because they had always believed in God and because they attended church.
There are many novels out there that tell a ‘fish-out-of-water’ tale, and this novel does that, but in a little bit different way. Sophia’s character in this novel had every opportunity to be the socialite who suddenly finds herself in the wilderness with no idea how to survive. This particular plot point in Through Rushing Water was so much more than that. Yes, Sophia was currently out of her element, and she was certainly naïve about a lot of things. However, she had not always been a socialite. The things she experienced in her homeland of Russia, the things she learned from the hardships in her past, they all added up to prepare her to be a missionary and teacher to the Poncas. My favorite part of this book was the theme that God had sent exactly the right person to the Ponca tribe for that situation and for that time. Just thinking about that motivates me to be willing to serve wherever Gods wants me to be.
The inspiring story and historical detail are what make this a compelling novel. As a historical fiction book, this one is really good. If I had been able to follow it a little bit better, I would have liked it even more.
I will give Through Rushing Water ... 3 ½ BookWorms.