Monday, November 28, 2011

Nowhere Else On Earth

Nowhere Else On Earth
Author: Josephine Humphreys
Penguin, 2001
368 pages

At a professional development conference late last year, I met a woman who asked me where I grew up. When I told her I was from Robeson County, her eyes lit up. "Have you read a book called Nowhere Else On Earth?" she asked. I hadn't. We exchanged business cards, and a couple of weeks later, I received a copy of this book (which won the 2001 Southern Book Award for Fiction) in the mail as a gift from this new acquaintance.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that my books tell me when I'm supposed to read them - not the other way around. So although I wanted to read it, Nowhere Else On Earth sat on my shelf for a while. The long wait ended on Thanksgiving Day. I spent the weekend in Robeson County, and I think the book wanted me to start reading it there, where this story takes place.

It starts in 1864. The US Civil War is winding down, yet to the people in the settlement known as Scuffletown, it seems like the war many never end. Once a player in the turpentine industry, the area is home to all sorts of folks. Caught between Union soldiers (who take whatever they want - even if it's everything a family has - and often give empty promises in return) and the local Confederate sympathizers (who want to punish them for "supplying" the Union - as if they had a choice), the residents of Scuffletown are just trying to get by in these desperate times. When the Home Guard starts taking their young men away to use as laborers at Fort Fisher, tensions thicken. But soon the situation escalates, and a group of men known as the Lowrie Gang sets out to avenge the many wrongs perpetuated on Scuffletown's residents.

This is the story of Henry Berry Lowrie (sometimes spelled Lowry), the young man from a prominent Indian family who led the "gang" and became a sort of local folk hero to many, and vilified by others. Henry's story has been told many times and in many different ways, including the outdoor drama Strike At The Wind. Nowhere Else On Earth tells it from the perspective of Henry's young admirer Rhoda Strong. The daughter of an Indian mother and Scottish father, Rhoda eventually becomes Henry's wife and the mother of his children. The author does take some liberties with the story (it's historical fiction, after all). To tell you more than this would be to give too much away.

Nowhere Else On Earth is good, solid historical fiction. I found myself wanting to know more about the place I'm from, asking my Dad lots of questions, and searching maps to find some of the places mentioned. I've come away with a new appreciation of the place where I'm from and a new respect for its history. And that's pretty cool if you ask me.