Tidewater by Libbie Hawker explores Pocahontas’ life. Starting from early childhood when John Smith arrives and following Amonute (one of Pocahontas’ actual names) until death, Hawker does not disappoint in showcasing what we know about Algonquian culture. From richly described rituals to fashion, readers get it all. (Note: even Hawker admits that some of these rituals are fictitious, made up because of how little we know about the rituals and rites of Algonquian women; in reading this book please be aware that it does not fully reflect true culture and should be read as mostly fiction).
Hawker uses some myths to her advantage, such as Pocahontas saving John Smith (most historians agree that this likely did not happen at all). Just as she uses myths, Hawker definitely goes out of her way to show the truth as much as she can. Readers will engage in the struggles between the tribe and the white man (man is appropriate as the colony was established without women or children until they reached better security). Hawker does not leave out the details either, particularly in the latter half of the novel where we witness terrible atrocities.
The beginning part of the novel is much weaker than the last half of the novel. In the beginning, Hawker doesn’t trust her audience and continues to use very weak verbs. Much of the descriptions should have been cut down. I think that this book was much than it should have been if we focus on details alone. Certainly the details about Pocahontas’ lifestyle, beliefs, traditions, etc., are appropriate and wonderful, but Hawker enjoys describing typical seasonal scenery in an unusual depth.
If you make it to the latter half of the novel, this is when Hawker really shows off her writing capabilities. We see the true struggle emerge between the tribe and the white colony; we see different plots, better writing in general, and true reactions/horrors the characters must face. The battle comes alive and meets a tragic end for Pocahontas. We see racism at its finest in England when she visits, and we see the hope die with her. Peace as it was momentarily realized, can not and did not last.
Considering my struggles through the first half, while assessing my appreciation for Hawker’s obvious research (not only in the Algonquian names, but the way she changes characters’ names as with tradition, and how she does not stray from writing about other very real people that shaped the Tidewater area), I give this book a 3/5 stars. If you can stick with the writing in the first half and the frustration of Hawker insisting on telling you what you already know, the second half is definitely worth it. If a writer’s purpose is to engage the reader and make them want to learn even more about their subject, then I think Hawker’s done a wonderful job at just that: I want to know more about the tribal lifestyle, rituals, and rites. This is a good fictional book to introduce you to important people and ways of the tribe along with showing you the realities of the struggle.