Synopses & Reviews
In her extraordinary novels Into the Wilderness
and Dawn on a Distant Shore
, award-winning writer Sara Donati deftly captured the vast, untamed wilderness of late-eighteenth-century New York and the trials and triumphs of the Bonner family. Now Donati takes on a new and often overlooked chapter in our nations past — and in the life of the spirited Bonners — as their oldest daughter, the brave and beautiful Hannah, comes of age with a challenge that will change her forever. Masterfully told, this passionate story is a moving tribute to a resilient, adventurous family and a people poised at the brink of a new century.
It is the spring of 1802, and the village of Paradise is still reeling from the typhoid epidemic of the previous summer. Elizabeth and Nathaniel Bonner have lost their two-year-old son, Hannah's half brother Robbie, but they struggle on as always: the men in the forests, the twins Lily and Daniel in Elizabeth's school, and Hannah as a doctor in training, apprenticed to Richard Todd. Hannah is descended from healers on both sides — one Scots grandmother and one Mohawk — and her reputation as a skilled healer in her own right is growing.
After a long night spent attending to a birth, Elizabeth and Hannah encounter an escaped slave hiding on the mountain. She calls herself Selah Voyager, and she is looking for Curiosity Freeman — a former slave herself, one of the villages wisest women and Elizabeth's closest friend. The Bonners take Selah, desperately ill, to Lake in the Clouds to care for her, and with that simple act they are drawn into the secret life that Curiosity and Galileo Freeman and their grown children have been leading for almost ten years. The Bonners will do what they must to protect the Freemans, just as Hannah will protect her patient, who presents more than one kind of challenge. For a bounty hunter is afoot — Hannah's childhood friend and first love, Liam Kirby.
While Elizabeth and Nathaniel undertake a treacherous journey through the endless forests to bring Selah to safety in the north, Hannah embarks on a very different journey to New-York City, with two goals: to learn the secrets of vaccination against smallpox, a disease that threatens Paradise, and to find out what she can about Liam's immediate past and what caused him to change so drastically from the boy she once loved. The obstacles she faces as a woman and a Mohawk make her confront questions long avoided about her place in the world.
Those questions follow her back to Paradise, where she finds that the medical miracle she brings with her will not cure prejudice or superstition, nor can it solve the problem of slavery. No sooner have the Bonners begun to rebound from their losses — old and new — than they find themselves confronted by more than one old enemy in a battle that will test the strength of their love for one another. Hannah faces the decision she has always dreaded: will she make a life for herself in a white world, or among her mothers people?
About the Author
Sara Donati is the pen name of Rosina Lippi. She lives with her husband, daughter, and various pets in an area between the Cascade Mountains and the Puget Sound, where she is at work on her next novel.
Reading Group Guide
1. Nathaniels voice has such power over Elizabeth that when he speaks, her anxiety seems to give way to relief and pleasure. What are some examples of this? Are there situations in which Nathaniel does not have this effect on Elizabeths uneasiness?
2. Discuss the dynamics between the servants and the slaves in the Kuick household. In what ways are the two similar and/or different? How do they interact with one another?
3. Hannah felt that she did not belong in New York City. Why? Where do you think she belongs?
4. What effect does the riot in New York City have on Hannah and Ethan? What are their feelings on the citys reaction to the display?
5. Selah left a lasting impression on many of the main characters. What are some of the life lessons she taught to these characters?
6. What are some changes that the Bonner family noticed in Liam since they had last seen him in Paradise? What about him has stayed the same?
7. Why didnt Liam expose Elizabeth and Nathaniels fraudulence on the ship? Do you think he would have turned them in if he had found Selah on board?
8. Lily was easily bored and often unsettled, and had turned inward since Robbies death. What helped to recapture her attention and imagination? Do you see a major change in her by the end of the book?
9. Discuss the multitude of purposes Jemima Southerns pregnancy served for her. How did her marriage to Isaiah change the dynamics of the home?
10. Why do you think Jemima believes that the worst thing a woman can do is to show a man that he has power over her? Does she find herself vulnerable to a man at any point in the story? Do you think that any of the other female characters in this book would agree with Jemimas view?
11. What are some examples of the personality conflicts between Elizabeth and Nathaniel? What do you believe is at the root of their differences? What do they learn from one another?
12. Discuss the similarities and differences between Nathaniel and Daniel. What sort of man do you see Daniel becoming?
13. What is the turning point in Hannahs indecision about marrying Strikes-the-Sky? What does he teach Hannah about herself?
14. Do you believe that Elizabeth finds closure in both Robbies and Selahs deaths by the end of the book? What event plays a major role in this?
15. Gabriel Oak says, “The more that is taken away, the more clearly will thou see the value of what is left behind.” Which characters in the book is this true for? Which ones made an effort to appreciate what was left behind? Which ones gave up?
16. Discuss the symbolism of the characters Indian names. (i.e. Walks-Ahead, Bone-in-Her-Back, Hawkeye, etc.) Why do you think the author chose these names for the characters?
17. Most of the characters in this book have dealt with an eminent amount of loss. How have these losses shaped the characters weaknesses and strengths?
From the Hardcover edition.
The questions, topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Sara Donatis Lake in the Clouds. We hope they will enrich your experience of this adventure-filled novel.