Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War
by Helen Frost
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, July 23, 2013
On Veterans' Day in 2009, quite coincidentally, I read two books about war.
Today, on the eve of Veterans' Day 2013, the book that rose to the top of my TBR pile was, coincidentally, a book about war, and another book by Helen Frost.
SALT is set in 1812, at a small fort in the Indiana Territory -- Fort Wayne. The richness of nature in this setting is vital to the story. The small poems about salt that are sprinkled through the story remind the reader of the long, slow processes of nature and the interconnectedness of the earth and all life on the earth. In nature, salt preserves, salt enriches. Salt in the hands of humans becomes a commodity of power.
James, the American son of the trader at the fort, is friends with Anikwa, a member of the Miami tribe that has lived in the area for centuries. It is stories such as this -- of humanity and the friendships that bridge differences of culture and beliefs -- that give me hope for a species whose history tends to be measured by its wars.
On the other hand, Isaac, son of another American settler at the fort, embodies the worst of humanity. He is suspicious, antagonistic, prone to violence, and kills recklessly and without regret. His character is like salt in a wound.
When the troops arrive at the besieged fort, they bring the horrors of war that persist to this day -- the environment is destroyed, the native people are displaced, and trust between cultures is shattered.
This book doesn't explain the entire history of the War of 1812, but it brings to vivid life one small slice of it. Historical fiction is one way that history comes to life.
But we shouldn't forget that history is alive. History is alive in the memories of the people around us. Tomorrow, on Veterans' Day, we will share the stories of the people in our lives who have served (or are serving) our country in the Armed Forces and we will weave a new story of humanity, high ideals, freedom, and courage.