subTerrain Magazine, Volume 6, No.54/55
Review by M. Wayne Cunningham

Susan Dobbie, a former docent at Langley’s Centennial Museum, has again extracted the grist and grit of B.C.’s history and shaped it exceedingly well.

As in her critically acclaimed debut novel, When Eagles Call, she fashions a seamless story of fact and fiction around the central character of now forty-year-old Hawaiian, Kimo Maka Kanui, and his dreams of breaking free of the “Here Before Christ” (Hudson’s Bay Company) to find enough gold to buy land in Hawaii for himself and his four-year-old daughter, Kami.

Still grieving over the recent death of his “half-white, half native” wife, Rose, and torn between leaving the company where he has laboured for the last seventeen years and doing what he deems best for his daughter, Kimo begins a quest of epic proportions. The first-person narrative of his journey of clashing cultures and conflicted sentiments is ripe with the smell of “naked greed.” It has everything to commend it.

Dobbie’s story of Kimo and his life-long friend Moku Mu’olelo is embedded with the history of the 1860s gold rush and that of Hawaii. As they suffer the hardships of cold and hunger with a new-found friend, Ezekiel Jeremiah Browne, “a Negraman” who “stands out like a lone cedar in a stump meadow,” they meet the icons of the era – Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie, when their gear is stolen; Little Yale, the HBC clerk “who stands as tall as any man”; and Jean Caux, known as “Cataline,” the French packer who “never fails to deliver.” Kimo rescues an Indian woman, Morning Bird, as stakes in a poker game, and finds her gratitude overwhelming as she becomes “an Indian women we can’t get rid of” – in the end a fortuitous situation for Kimo and his daughter.

The three gold seekers cross the new Alexandra Suspension Bridge, creep along the Hell’s Gate wagon road that’s “ripped from the side of the steep mountain,” learn of McGowan’s War, and paddle past Hill’s Bar and the cluster of American miners to “move on, leaving them to their pans and pistols.” They overhear tavern talk about Catherine Schubert and the Overlanders and discover how Lytton was named for British Colonial Secretary, Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, (but not on “a dark and stormy night.”) There are back stories too, about racial tensions between Indians, whites, blacks, Chinese, and Hawaiians.

And as they trudge from one settlement of sameness to another, they learn about themselves, about others and about how all the towns have “sprung up like a mushroom, new, all future and fake fronts.”

Besides experiencing the adventures of finding the gold they eventually gather, the trio encounters the misadventures of the arson of their cabin, a series of shootings by an unknown sniper, and the killing of a vengeful assailant. And throughout, there is history to be absorbed, humanity to be understood, phrases to recall, images to remember.