Summary and book reviews of The High Divide by Lin Enger

The High Divide

by Lin Enger

The High Divide by Lin Enger
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2015, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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About this Book

Book Summary

Breathtaking portrait of the vast Plains landscape are matched by the rich expanse of characters' emotional terrain, as pivotal historical events blend seamlessly in this story of a family's sacrifice and devotion.

In 1886, Gretta Pope wakes one morning to discover that her husband is gone. Ulysses Pope has left his family behind on the far edge of Minnesota's western prairie, with only the briefest of notes and no explanation for why he left or where he's headed. It doesn't take long for Gretta's young sons, Eli and Danny, to set off after him, following the scant clues they can find, jumping trains to get where they need to go, and ending up in the rugged badlands of Montana.

Short on money and beleaguered by a treacherous landlord, Gretta has no choice but to seek out her sons and her husband as well, leading her to the doorstep of a woman who seems intent on making Ulysses her own. While out in the wilderness, the boys find that the closer they come to Ulysses's trail, the greater the perils that confront them.

Enger's breathtaking portrait of the vast Plains landscape is matched by the rich expanse of his characters' emotional terrain, as pivotal historical events - the turmoil of expansionism, the near total demise of the bison herds, and the subjugation of the Plains Indians - blend seamlessly with the story of a family's sacrifice and devotion. 

From
The High Divide
By Lin Enger

In the kitchen Eli peeled and grated three large potatoes into a bowl, added a palmful of mustard seeds, a heavy pinch of dried dandelion, a tablespoon of ground pepper, and just enough water and flour to make a sticky ball. His hands worked on their own, his mind given over to the letter in his pocket, the sweet smell it carried, and the new fears he had now because of it. He was lucky it arrived today, though—he knew that. The regular postman, Smith, was down with a fever, and a man from Moorhead had come out to handle the mail. Smith, of course, would have noted the feminine hand on the envelope and made sure to deliver it in person to their house.

By the time Eli started back to the store, Danny had been tucked into bed, their mother's, and all the shades had been drawn. The poultice covered his forehead and eyes. Eli took the long way back, stopping to climb the half-dead cottonwood that leaned out over the river, its wide trunk ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Which one of the four members of the Pope family do you see as the novel's main character? Why?

  2. Why do you think Eli goes off in search of his father instead of staying home to help his mother as she asks him to do?

  3. What role do the actions and words of Two Blood play in the Pope family's unfolding story?

  4. How does the relationship between Danny and Eli change as the two of them travel west to find their father?

  5. Which, if any, of the novel's characters seem to have seen through Ulysses's veneer to the man he really is?

  6. What does Gretta learn about herself in the course of her trials and travels? At what points in the story does she seem most able to tap her own strengths and affect her and her family's ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Overall, this makes for something of a thin plot – none of the strands are epic enough to make this the lasting, Great American novel it might be seeking to emulate – but the book is strong on atmosphere and themes. It works very well as a snapshot of a particular time and place. Sacrifice, family loyalty, remorse, and being or treating a stranger are all topics under consideration. Enger also captures a dying way of life: the buffalo have been hunted to near-extinction, and Native Americans are being driven from the Plains onto reservations.   (Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Full Review (717 words).

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Media Reviews

Booklist

This is a gripping story with well-portrayed, complex, and sympathetic main characters and a complement of believable secondary figures in a vividly described region nearing the close of an era.

Kirkus Reviews

Enger writes in an expansive style suitable to his sprawling subject.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Set against a backdrop of beauty and danger, this is the moving story of a man coming to terms with his past. In its narrative simplicity and emotional directness, it is reminiscent of John Ford's classic The Searchers.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Enger's novel is told in beautifully exact, liquid language that wastes no time, just as one cannot afford to waste time when making a journey such as the Pope family's. Highly recommended.

Author Blurb Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise
Layered with meaning, this remarkable novel deserves to be read more than once. The High Divide proves Enger's chops as a masterful storyteller.

Author Blurb James Scott, author of The Kept
Told with caring patience and precise language, The High Divide is a novel to get lost in.

Author Blurb Benjamin Percy, author of Red Moon
The High Divide, a novel about a family in peril, is haunting and tense but leavened by considerable warmth and humanity. Lin Enger writes with durable grace about a man's quest for redemption and the human capacity for forgiveness.

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Beyond the Book

Montana's Journey To Statehood

Much of Lin Enger's novel, The High Divide, is set in the Montana Territory of the late 1880s. ("The High Divide" is an area of mountain ranges that crosses the Continental Divide between eastern Idaho and western Montana. It includes a small portion of the Badlands.) The Lewis and Clark expedition passed through what is now Montana in 1805-6, and fur traders, missionaries, and explorers set up various outposts over the following decades. The 1860s saw increased settlement due to the discovery of gold deposits.

Miles City, Montana, 1881 President Abraham Lincoln oversaw the establishment of the Montana Territory in May 1864. The land, borrowed from the Idaho and Dakota Territories, was originally acquired through the Louisiana Purchase and the Oregon Treaty. ...

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