Summary and book reviews of Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit


by TaraShea Nesbit

Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit X
Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2020, 288 pages
    Oct 2021, 288 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the bestselling author of The Wives of Los Alamos comes the riveting story of a stranger's arrival in the fledgling colony of Plymouth, Massachusetts - and a crime that shakes the divided community to its core.

Ten years after the Mayflower pilgrims arrived on rocky, unfamiliar soil, Plymouth is not the land its residents had imagined. Seemingly established on a dream of religious freedom, in reality the town is led by fervent puritans who prohibit the residents from living, trading, and worshipping as they choose. By the time an unfamiliar ship, bearing new colonists, appears on the horizon one summer morning, Anglican outsiders have had enough.

With gripping, immersive details and exquisite prose, TaraShea Nesbit reframes the story of the pilgrims in the previously unheard voices of two women of very different status and means. She evokes a vivid, ominous Plymouth, populated by famous and unknown characters alike, each with conflicting desires and questionable behavior.

Suspenseful and beautifully wrought, Beheld is about a murder and a trial, and the motivations―personal and political―that cause people to act in unsavory ways. It is also an intimate portrait of love, motherhood, and friendship that asks: Whose stories get told over time, who gets believed―and subsequently, who gets punished?


Alice Bradford

We thought ourselves a murderless colony. In God's good favor, we created a place on a hill overlooking the sea, in the direction from which we came. For a while, God's favor seemed possible. But it pleased Him to have other plans.

I remember that day, in the year of our Lord sixteen hundred and thirty, that the first colonist was murdered. We were divided, as we had been from the beginning—half of the colonists were congregants striving to live as God intended. And the other half? Well, they were why we took care to mend the fences.

It was August, the month of promises fulfilled or never realized. Our harvest had been bountiful: acres of nearly ripe corn, beans, and squash. I had three living children with me in Plymouth. William the younger was six. Mercy was three, already feeding herself porridge, and gentle with the newborn Joseph, when reminded. My two eldest were still in Holland. At forty years of age, I was for the final time a new mother...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About this book

It begins with a killing. Ten years after the Mayflower struck shore on rocky, unfamiliar soil, Plymouth is not the land its residents had imagined. The Billingtons—Anglicans, outsiders, and rebels—have just about had enough. And that's when a stranger arrives. Beheld is about a murder and a trial; it's also an intimate, personal portrait of love, desire, motherhood, and friendship. The novel reframes the story of the pilgrims in historically under-recorded voices, asking whose stories get told over time, who gets believed, and who gets punished.

  1. In the first pages of the novel, Alice Bradford is anticipating the arrival of a ship. The passage is also full of foreshadowing. "Everything," says Alice, "could ...

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BookBrowse Review


...Resentment, we are told from the beginning, leads to the first murder among the Plymouth settlers. But there's another story as well, that of Alice and her guilt over past choices, her grief over the death of her best friend (and William's first wife) Dorothy several years earlier on the Mayflower, and her struggle to conform to the inflexible roles and expectations placed upon her as the pilgrims fashion a new society from scratch. Despite the constant, looming dread established by the promise of a murder, it's Alice's plight and Eleanor's rage that give Beheld its electricity...continued

Full Review (599 words).

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(Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

Media Reviews

New York Times
The novel is most successful where it allows itself to stray from historical fact and plot — to invent and to play with language, to give itself imaginative time and space. Nesbit is brilliant in those moments, and captures a paradox of historical writing — that it's in the invention and improvisation that the past feels most pressing and most real.

Minneapolis Star Tribune
A richly complex and sorrowful work with a particular interest in the role of women in the colony...In this powerful work, Nesbit renders the past without muting its gravity.

Nesbit tells this story of conflict and contradiction in alternating chapters from both the empowered and the powerless. The voices of the women are especially strong, particularly Elizabeth, whose friendships and reminiscences of the colony's earlier days offer insight about the women of the plantation…Land ownership, religious observation and differing accounts of events all play their part in this clever, insightful novel that digs deeply into our country's conflicted origins.

Kirkus Reviews
Although the pacing here can be off-putting (the buildup to the promised disaster is long; the climax, too short) and the sensitively rendered but still peripheral role that the Wampanoag Tribe plays could have used more development, Nesbit's novel has all the juicy sex, lies, and violence of a prestige Netflix drama and shines surprising light on the earliest years of America, massive warts and all.

Restoring women's voices, primarily through Alice and Eleanor, adds a new and welcome dimension to our history, made more vivid by solid research and clear, concise prose. In Nesbit's hands, history once again comes alive.

Library Journal
Readers who enjoy historical fiction, told with fine literary style, will be delighted. Nesbit undertook considerable historical documentary research to get the details right, and the results should also appeal to anyone with an interest in colonial history.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Nesbit's lush prose adds texture to stories of the colony's women, and her deep immersion in primary sources adds complexity to the historical record. Fans of Miriam Toews's Women Talking will eagerly devour this gripping historical.

Author Blurb Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and The Summer Before the War
In a gripping retelling of the Plymouth colony's first murder, we finally hear the voices of women—and they speak an unvarnished truth that turns history on its pointy-hatted head. Truly a riveting read.

Author Blurb Anton DiSclafani, author of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls
TaraShea Nesbit's puritans are passionate and vengeful and entrancing. Part mystery, part love story, beautifully told and meticulously researched, Beheld reanimates and complicates the mythologies of America's earliest settlers. I was sad when it ended.

Author Blurb Laird Hunt, author of In the House in the Dark of the Wood
Beheld breathes fresh life into a world grown still and murky beneath the scrim of legend—rife with intrigue, fractured by difference, marked by violence, and full of haunting images. With gorgeous, period-inflected prose, Nesbit takes us back to the earliest days of New England to look through the eyes and over the shoulders of historical characters both remembered and not. I read it at a gallop. What a marvel this novel is.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Myles Standish and the Defense of the Plymouth Colony

Myles Standish Beheld takes place in 1630 at the Plymouth settlement in what would later become Massachusetts and features several characters taken from the real-life history of the colony. One of these is Myles Standish, a decorated soldier who arrived in 1620 on the Mayflower with the first group of English pilgrims and served as Plymouth's head of defense. He was involved in several clashes with the Indigenous population, most notably the Wampanoag nation.

Standish was born circa 1584 in either Lancashire or the Isle of Man (this is a subject of debate among historians). In the early years of the 17th century, serving as a lieutenant in the English army, he was sent to Holland to support the Dutch in their Eighty Years' War against Spain. It ...

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