Our lives are always one step from being displaced—and replaced—by something new and unexpected, and it’s up to each of us to determine if and ultimately how to adapt. Tatjana Soli, the bestselling author of The Lotus Eaters, The Forgetting Treeand The Last Good Paradise, weaves two such tales together in her stunning new historical novel, The Removes.
Beginning during the Civil War and continuing into the height of the Indian wars in the 1870s, the novel follows two women whose old lives are forfeited—one by choice, one not.
In the case of 15-year-old Anne Cummins, her life-changing event occurs when Cheyenne warriors brutally attack her homestead, killing her parents and siblings, friends and neighbors, before taking her captive. Facing starvation and abuse from her captors, Anne quickly learns to become useful to the tribe’s survival—or else she may be “quickly dispatched.”
Libbie Bacon, by contrast, voluntarily gives up a life of refined luxury as the daughter of a small-town judge to marry flamboyant Civil War hero and longtime beau George “Autie” Armstrong Custer, even going so far as to accompany his half-starved, desperate troops to the bloody fields of battle. Heralded as heroes at the conclusion of the war, Libbie and Autie face removal once again with the assignment to the 7th Cavalry at Fort Riley, Kansas, trading their fame “for the empty prairie, crude clapboard buildings, and poor rations.”
“It was a reckoning,” Libbie mused. “As if their pride had grown out of proportion, and they were being slapped down into their places.”
For these women, with devastating losses on both sides of the war and with their own lives in horrific turmoil, “it seemed easier to die than to live.” But neither Anne nor Libbie is the type to give up, even as their lives ultimately race toward an unavoidable collision on the frontier. Soli’s novel is both gut-wrenchingly violent and heart-wrenching, but above all, it’s an unforgettable journey of loss and hope.