Janice Woods Windle is a semi-biographical novel of the lives of her own ancestors. Growing up with stories passed down through the generations in her family, Windle went on to do serious genealogical research, leading to this novel. True Women takes us through the lives of specifically three women in the author's family tree (which is diagrammed at the beginning of the book): Euphemia Texas Asby King, Georgia Virginia Lawshe Woods, and Bettie Moss King. Their stories span from the time of the Republic of Texas, through what seems like war after war after war, up until the present day, when the author is learning more about these women from Idella, an old woman with an intuitive gift.
I was born in East Texas, and I currently live in the area schoolchildren learn as the "prairies and lakes" region of Texas. We moved around a lot during my childhood, though, and I don't self-identify as Texan. But while I've personally never felt any real connection with the state, I think it's no secret how proud others are to call themselves Texan. Some (many) of them, obnoxiously so. I never much understood it.
This book, however, is about generations of people who have every reason to be proud of being Texan. Euphemia, her sisters, and many hundreds of other women and children fled from Santa Anna's army in what became known as the Runaway Scrape. They helped to make Texas the Republic it once was, and managed not only to just survive in the harsh environments they chose to call home, but they worked hard and came to thrive in what I feel is a nearly impossible place to live. This is the part of the book that really sets it apart from others for me. Other states have a lot of history from the scars left by the many wars this country has seen, but the time of the Texas Republic is something else. I've always thought the obnoxious and blind state pride I've seen in Texas was silly, but for those whose roots go as deep as this, I can certainly see what there is to be proud of. As for myself, I can't say I have any more pride in being born in Texas after having read this book, but I have a much greater respect for the history and the people who struggled through and fought for its beginnings.
Woods Windle is an excellent story-teller; I almost kept forgetting that the people in this book aren't just fictional, but actually lived and breathed and walked the ground that I have also walked. She truly brings her ancestors to life, and I am glad to have gotten to know them even just this little bit. The description of their lives and their thoughts is moving.
Living in this state, too, I enjoyed any time a location was mentioned that I have either been to myself or am at least familiar with to some extent; it always gives me a little thrill when I think about things like standing in the exact spot where perhaps someone else, over a century ago, once stood. Whenever the grass gets tall along the sides of the highway, I like to imagine the area without the freeway and the shopping centers and housing developments, and think of the pioneers like the author's ancestors who passed through that very spot. It's always humbling. Anyway, "seeing" some of these familiar places through the experiences of these women almost makes me want to take a road trip and visit them all again, just to really see them again through this new perspective.
The reason I went out of my way to find this book is because I have seen the mini-series adaptation several times, and my mother and I actually own it on DVD. Naturally, there are about a million changes, and the book is so much more rich, but the mini-series is a gem as well. True Women is not just a genealogical treasure for the author and her family, but a novel of a genuine and legitimate Texas pride, and a novel of making it through all these difficulties with the added historical disadvantage of being a woman. It is a novel about determination, resilience, and perseverance. I would read this again, and I plan to lend it out to as many people as possible.
Ivy Books (Ballantine/Random House)
Ivy Books (Ballantine/Random House)
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