REVIEW: Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser
This was a hard book to read, only because I absolutely adore all-things Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’m no scholar of her life and story, but that’s only because I devoured the books (both as a child and again as an adult). I did watch the biography that was made of her life a few years ago, and it hurt to see some of the truths behind her pleasant, insightful adventure stories.
This book rips the veil and exposes the truth, one that perhaps Wilder herself never meant to share. However, it’s important in 2018 that we know and understand what was really at work in life the of a frontier-girl and her family.
This is admittedly a different age. When Wilder’s works were first published, the frontier was romanticized and the displacement of an entire race of people–and the subsets of their different tribes–really wasn’t given much thought. Now we know what horrors were inflicted and the role that whites and their government played in their demise. To see the frontier life as anything other than the rape of a culture and the destruction of an entire people–even if it’s seen through the eyes of an innocent child–is a disservice to both society and history.
Reading this important work was for me much like reading Harper Lee’s original work. Go Set a Watchman was the book that her editors and publisher thought shouldn’t have been published, and I’ve yet to finish it since I’m such a die-hard fan of To Kill a Mockingbird. In the same way, reading Prairie Fires will tell you much of the story that you never wanted to know, the real truth behind Pa and Ma and their happy trek across uncharted territory.
But it’s important to know the truth. The book was filled with insight and a deeper understanding of both Wilder and her family, as well as a better knowledge of life in that era. The “glossed over” tales like almost starving to death in the winter and being attacked by a host woman with cabin fever make more sense now than they did in her books; discovering that she never wanted to be a teacher but made that sacrifice because it was ripped away from her sister made me love Wilder even more.
This book only adds another layer to the story, but it’s not for the romantic or the faint of heart. This book is only for those readers who truly want to know what the frontier really held for some members of our society.