This New York Times Notable Book is a “sweeping historical drama” of a physician and his family on the Illinois frontier in the nineteenth century (The New York Times Book Review).
Dr. Robert Judson Cole travels from his ravaged Scotland homeland, through the operating rooms of Boston, to the cabins of frontier Illinois. In the wilderness he befriends the starving remnants of the Sauk tribe, who have fled their reservation. In the process, he absorbs their culture and learns native remedies that enrich the classical medical education he received at Edinburgh University. He marries a remarkable settler woman he had saved from illness. The details of how their deaf son manages to become a physician also, despite his handicap, and the story of how the Cole family is sucked into the bloody vortex of the Civil War and survives, makes an exceptional reading experience.
In the New World, young Scottish physician Rob J. Cole seeks the justice and tolerance that seemed missing in the Old. But in Boston in 1839, where he assists surgeon Oliver Wendell Holmes, he finds the same mixture of altruism and evil that informs all human pursuits. Joining the Union Army in civilian service, Rob J. moves to the wilderness of Illinois. Gordon ( The Rabbi ) deftly employs Rob J.'s diary, which is read by his son Shaman, also a doctor, after his father's death, to reveal the Coles's early family years. In doctoring and sheep farming, Rob J. builds a worthy life, marrying the beautiful and haunted Sarah. While dealing sensitively with Sarah's jealousy of his Indian soulmate, the female shaman Makwa-ikwa, and with Shaman's deafness, Rob J. often escapes into the demands and rewards of his practice. The search for Makwa-ikwa's murderer raises such issues as racial injustice, religious prejudice and pacifism. In serviceable, if curiously unemotional prose, Gordon tells a quietly absorbing story that should please a wide audience. Literary Guild alternate.