Monday, June 15, 2009

The Texicans

Even after its admission to the Union, Texas was a dangerous place for those staking a claim to a new life there. Life, already tough enough for the small farmers and ranchers working so hard simply to survive from one season to the next, was complicated by the presence of Comanche warriors unwilling to give up their tribal lands without a fight. Sudden, violent, death was still common enough to scare away all but the hardiest, or most desperate, of settlers.

Nina Vida’s The Texicans is the story of a handful of accidental Texans, a group with little in common who met in Texas for the first time and banded together for their common good and protection. Vida’s approach of describing this colorful period of Texas history through the experiences of its poorest, and often most desperate, settlers rather than through those of the state’s wealthier, well-known leaders gives the reader a strong sense of the odds faced by anyone seeking a fresh start in the state.

Joseph Kimmel, a Missouri schoolteacher bored with his job, comes to Texas to settle the business affairs of his recently deceased brother, a San Antonio storekeeper, but does not intend to settle in the state. Joseph, though, is the kind of man who cannot resist helping those in need, especially if he is their only hope. Before long, he finds himself responsible for the well-being of an assortment of new Texans who will change his life as deeply as he changes theirs.

Kimmel may have come to Texas with no plan other than to do right by his brother, but he somehow winds up with a ranch unlike any other in the state, one at which Mexicans, freed blacks, escaped slaves, Indians and immigrant Texans are treated as equals, partners, and neighbors. Among the castoffs living on the ranch is Aurelia, a young Mexican woman who finds herself suddenly widowed when her brute of a Texas Ranger husband dies in a skirmish against a band of Indians. Kimmel will remain infatuated with Aurelia his entire life despite his marriage to Katrin, the young Alsatian woman he marries in order to save her from the Comanche leader who wants her for his own. Kimmel also offers refuge to Luck, a runaway slave who once stole his horse and left him stranded in the wilderness, and to a family of four ex-slaves (father, mother and two young sons) abandoned on the trail by their owner when the father seems certain to die from a badly fractured leg.

The Texicans covers twelve years in the life of Joseph Kimmel and those closest to him during an exciting period of Texas history (1840s-1850s). Their stories represent both the harsh realities of life in Texas during this period and the romantic notions often associated with those years. Nina Vida, however, does not allow her plot to be dominated by its romantic elements. Her characters come to Texas for different reasons, and they have varying degrees of luck once they get there. Some are more successful than others are; some are happy, some not; some become rich men, others do not survive for long.

The Texicans perfectly captures the spirit and desperation of the times and, through the eyes of its diverse set of characters, shows what a crapshoot 1840s Texas was. Some won, some lost, and most were happy just to break even.

Rated at: 4.0

9 comments:

  1. Did you read Lonesome Dove? Is this a good book for people who liked that book? (I didn't, but my husband loved it, so I'm wondering if it's a book I could get for him...)

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  2. I have to tell you first that "Lonesome Dove" is my very favorite comfort read. When I need a jump start on my reading, I sometimes read a chapter or two of "Lonesome Dove" to get my rhythm back.

    I don't think that there are any characters in "The Texicans" to compare with the main "Lonesome Dove" ones despite how good some of them are - that is almost impossible to accomplish, IMO.

    I'm saying this only not to get your hopes up to high. That comparison is just too tough on any author.

    Now, I did like this book a whole lot and I recommend it to anyone who likes a more realistic western or enjoys historical fiction based in Texas. Nina Vida treats her characters harshly - just the way that real life would have treated them - and that's something I admire in a book.

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  3. Thanks for the feedback! (And actually, I meant not that *I* didn't like Lonesome Dove but that I didn't *read* it) but I could certainly see him picking it up again too!

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  4. This actually sounds like a great read. I haven't read a western ever!!!

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  5. Staci, this is the best kind of western, a nice blend of realism and western myth. I think you'll like it.

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  6. Nina Vida offered me to send this book for me to read and review despite the fact that I live in India.

    I received it the day before. I look forward to read it asap!

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  7. My husband loved "Lonesome Dove" as well. Have to confess, I liked the miniseries, but couldn't make it through the book. Robert Parker has been doing some Western writing recently -- I read one a couple months ago that was fun. (Can't remember the title, I'm sorry...) And I think people will enjoy "The Shopkeeper," by James Best, which is a fun Western, set in Nevada in the late 1870s. The hero -- women will love him as well as men -- is a former store owner from the East who heads West for adventure, and finds it. My husband like it too.

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  8. Liz, thanks for the information on that James Best novel...gonna check that one out soon. I haven't read Parker's westerns yet because I got so burned out on his Spencer books (I think he did, too) but I plan to read one of them soon.

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  9. Gautami, please let me know what you think of the book. I'm curious as to how this kind of thing "reads" in India. Can you identify with the characters and time, for instance?

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