Cherokee America

Margaret Verble

Large print - 2019

Spring, 1875, in the Cherokee Nation West. A baby, a black hired hand, a bay horse, a gun, a gold stash, and a preacher have all gone missing. Cherokee America Singer, known as "Check," is not amused: one of her sons is caught in a compromising position that results in murder; a neighbor disappears; another man is killed. Tensions mount and violence escalates as Check's mixed race family, friends, and neighbors come together to protect their community-- and painfully expel one of their own.

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Historical fiction
Epic fiction
Waterville, Maine : Thorndike Press, a part of Gale, a Cengage Company 2019.
Main Author
Margaret Verble (author)
Large print edition
Physical Description
675 pages (large print) ; 23 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by New York Times Review

IT'S 1875, and Check Singer is a Cherokee Nation matriarch with five sons, the wife to a dying husband and the manager of her family's successful potato farm. Although she is wealthy, influential and respected in the Nation, there are times when Check wishes she could "unclasp the confines of the feminine role like she unclasped her corset at night." Margaret Verble's "Cherokee America" - a prequel to her debut, "Maud's Line," which was a Pulitzer finalist - is packed with subplots: a quest for hidden gold, a murder in a bawdy house, the threat of the new federal judge in the Western District of Arkansas, a missing girl, an ambitious politician and a long-term romance. It's a lot, but the novel is about more than individual events; it's about life in the Nation when it was a sovereign land with a government of its own. It's also about the Cherokee culture and its rules, spoken and unspoken, that have been passed down for generations. That culture is both ancient and forward-thinking: In the late 19th century, women in the Cherokee Nation have more rights than women in the States, but those rights only extend so far. Even a smart, gutsy woman like Check is usually thwarted, kept in the dark by men who decide what she should and should not know. The author's desire to keep to cultural accuracy is understandable. Still, readers may wish Verble, herself a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, had used authorial discretion and given Check enough agency to drive the plot rather than sideline her as a frustrated observer. But Verble's decision to stay true to Cherokee history ultimately pays off. Viewed as a cultural and character study, "Cherokee America" sings. Though the omniscient viewpoint dilutes Check's story, that sacrifice is in service to understanding the variety of people in the Nation, where the designation of "full blood" is determined by whether someone lives according to the old ways, not by who their parents and grandparents were. A nonCherokee man might be married to a native woman, but he will still retain the prejudices of his birth culture; African-Americans are treated better in the Nation than outside, but they have their own unique set of challenges. "Cherokee America" is an essential corrective to the racially tinged myths created to justify the annihilation of indigenous cultures and the theft of native lands. The pacing of the novel mimics the rhythm of a Cherokee neighborly visit: conversation about the weather, crops, family and gossip before getting around to the real point of the call. No matter what was discussed, no matter what was resolved (or not resolved), there was joy and satisfaction in spending time with friends and family. That's how you will feel about Check and the other characters by the end of the novel. You're invested in them, their culture, their life. Verble has given historical fiction lovers a real gift: "Cherokee America" is an excellent illustration of how diverse books enrich literature, and the minds of those who read them. MELISSA lenhardt'S most recent novel is "Heresy."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [June 9, 2019]
Review by Booklist Review

Cherokee Check America Singer is a middle-aged, half-white, half-Cherokee woman raising her five children as white in the Cherokee Nation West (present-day Oklahoma) in 1875. Heredity and wealth allow this and, augmented by Check's intelligence, combine to make her a powerful woman. Her network of relatives and relationships includes Cherokee, white, and freed Black people and extends across two states. The novel has many characters with whom Check interacts throughout her day, and there is not a single stereotype among them. Through Check's eyes, her dozens of friends and neighbors convey a story, a memory, or a dilemma that activates an appropriate or necessary reaction from her some of which may change lives. Then, in a mystery told in several layers, a girl is kidnapped and a man is killed. Although Check is the last to know what really happened, her courage tells us everything we need to know about this wise woman. This complicated, engrossing story of the post-Civil War West is a prequel to Verble's Pulitzer Prize finalist, Maud's Line (2016), but stands on its own.--Jeanne Greene Copyright 2019 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

At the heart of Verble's excellent second novel, following Pulitzer Prize finalist Maud's Line, is a woman named Cherokee America Singer, aka Check. Check is a Cherokee, prosperous landowner, widow, and mother of five sons struggling to keep her family together amid the conflicts between natives and whites in the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) in 1875. This is a dangerous time for the Cherokee-outlaws are invading their territory, rumors of hidden gold attract unwelcome attention, and a federal judge uses a murder to try to impose federal law on protected Native land. The murder victim is Cherokee and the killers are white, complicating the question of jurisdiction. In an effort to protect Cherokee sovereignty, Check, the townspeople, and the sheriff deceive the investigating U.S. marshals to save an innocent man from arrest. However, when the investigation reaches Check's doorstep, she must take matters into her own hands to try to save her family. In Verble's hands, this tale of a mother's love and her gritty resolve in a shameful era of false promises and broken treaties makes for a rich, propulsive novel. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

In 1875, Cherokee America "Check" Singer is the mother of five sons and the matriarch of a successful family living with the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory. Check works tirelessly to keep her family's place within the Cherokee Nation during a chaotic time: Check's husband, Andrew, a prominent potato farmer and white abolitionist, is dying, and Andrew's hired hand, an American named Puny, has gone missing after an affair with a local girl. With Puny's disappearance, rumors begin spreading through the Cherokee Nation that there's a stash of gold nearby, and Puny knows the location. A series of intertwined events, crimes, and hearsay brings U.S. Marshals into Indian territory, endangering all Check holds dear. Check, her household, and Cherokee neighbors form a fascinating and unforgettable community. VERDICT Verble, whose novel Maud's Line was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, provides historical context and rich details about the lives and relationships of Cherokees in Indian Territory after the Civil War. Highly recommended for readers of literary historical fiction in the vein of Lalita Tademy's Citizen's Creek and Paulette Jiles's News of the World. [See Prepub Alert, 8/20/18.]-Emily Hamstra, Seattle © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Check had bought everything she'd come for, but frowned at her list and pursed her lips. She glanced at the scales on the counter. "I'll take another three pounds of coffee, Mr. Taylor." She folded her paper to a square and slipped it into her skirt pocket. Focused on bolts of cloth over the merchant's head while he scooped the beans. The plinking of her purchase against the brass of the scales reminded her of hard rain on her tin roof. The sound provided some relief. Mr. Taylor tipped the scale. Slid the beans into a burlap sack atop ten pounds already purchased. He retied the string and set his hand on a large spool of twine. "What else, Mrs. Singer?" Check moved towards a barrel of nails. She should've brought Puny in with her. He'd know if they had enough. But she didn't want to take chances. She plucked a nail from the quarter circle holding the longest. "Give me five pounds of these, please." She looked into the dark back of the store to avoid Mr. Taylor's eyes. He was a close friend of her husband's, and there wasn't anything to say about Andrew that hadn't already been said. Mr. Taylor came from behind his counter, scoop in one hand, burlap sack in the other. "If you need anything else, I'll have Jim bring it out to you." "Yes, I know, thank you." Check moved away from the barrel and back to the counter. She ran her fingers over ridges of wear. Was thinking she'd never noticed them before when she caught a streak of light in the sides of her eyes. She turned as sunlight and a young man in a blue shirt burst into the store together. "She's loaded, Aunt Check," he said. Check Singer was related to many people in the Nation. But not to that particular youth. His people, she thought, were from somewhere like Maryland, or maybe Vermont. Being called "aunt" by anyone other than kin made her feel old. She responded, "Thank you. But I'm not your aunt, Jim." "No ma'am, Mrs. Singer. But she's loaded anyways." Jim pressed his hands down the front of his pants. "I didn't mean disrespect." Check shook her head. She knew she was irritable. But words to tamp her reactions were dammed off inside her. She tried to soften her face with her eyes. She liked Jim. He was long-legged and a worker. His lopsided smile and sandy hair would soon catch the eye of a girl. But not one of Mr. Taylor's. His eldest, Florence, was being sparked by her oldest, Connell. How that would develop, Check didn't know. And didn't have time to think on. But all three of the Taylor daughters would marry improved land. Jim, a white, couldn't improve any land without stealing it. And Suzanne Taylor would never condone that. Check turned back to Mr. Taylor. "I'll send Puny if I need anything. And either Connell or Hugh will be around with a checkbook at the end of the month." She hesitated, then added, "No matter what." "Don't worry about sending Puny. Get me word, and I'll get it there. We want to help as much as we can." Taylor hoped Florence would marry Connell. The Singers paid with money drawn on an Ohio bank, not with produce or specie certificates. And Check Singer was a Lowrey, and the daughter of Colonel Gideon Morgan. "I know. Thank you, Mr. Taylor." Check turned towards the door and Jim. "Mrs. Singer?" She turned back around. "He's in good hands, Check." The storeowner's stubble of new beard made him look more like a drunk than an affluent merchant. His head bobbed awkwardly, but the informality of address was an attempt to convey the depth of his feelings. "Yes, Nash. I know. Thank you." Check turned again, nodded, not directly at Jim but at the blue shirtsleeve holding the door. She walked towards the bright morning. Behind her, Nash barked, "Pack Mrs. Singer's coffee and nails." Check staggered, overwhelmed with sunshine. It was still early in the planting season. The front of the store faced south and west, where the weather came from. She looked at the planks to get her bearings. Her ribcage was penned to a funnel by her corset; she feared for a moment she wouldn't be able to breathe. She gulped, and reminded herself to take deeper breaths. That winter was over, and bodies need fresh air like houses and rugs. Jim slipped past her and was putting her last purchases into her wagon when she heard steps on the planks behind her. Words came in a shout before she turned. "You through, Mama?" Clifford was on her. Check stepped back. "Yes, get the reins." Excerpted from Cherokee America by Margaret Verble All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.