Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Review: 'Walking to Gatlinburg'

Teen takes an epic hero's journey through a country at war

BY BRUCE DESILVA - Associated Press
The Raleigh News & Observer
March 14, 2010

Morgan Kinneson, just 17, climbs Kingdom Mountain in the snow, bound for Canada with a runaway slave on the last leg of the Underground Railroad. And he is in a hurry.

When he completes his mission of mercy, he intends to turn south, toward Gettysburg, where his older brother, Pilgrim, a doctor, is missing in action. But things don't turn out as Morgan planned.

Almost within sight of freedom, the runaway is gunned down by a team of slave catchers, and Morgan barely escapes with his life. In his pocket, placed there by the runaway, is a smooth stone carved with mysterious runes. Morgan has no idea what they mean. But he does know the slave catchers want it, and they are hot on his trail as he travels south, mostly on foot, in search of his brother.

In a trek that will remind discerning readers of "The Iliad," Morgan crosses from his native Vermont to New York, treks across the Adirondacks, takes a boat on the Erie Canal, follows the Susquehanna River the length of Pennsylvania to Gettysburg, and finds that his brother, if he is still alive, has ventured further south.

So Morgan presses on, dodging and occasionally battling the slave catchers, through West Virginia to Richmond and across the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains to the little town of Gatlinburg.

This being a Howard Frank Mosher novel, Morgan inevitably encounters a host of irresistibly quirky characters along the way. There's a dying gypsy and his pet elephant, a crazy old man who re-enacts the battle of Charleston every day in memory of his dead soldier-son, a courtly Gen. Robert E. Lee, three colorful villains obsessed with murdering Underground Railroad stationmasters, a seductive slave girl, some feuding mountain folk and even a pair of ghosts.

"Walking to Gatlinburg" is the tenth novel by Mosher, a superb storyteller who is the closest thing we have to Mark Twain. It is an epic tale of heroism, a love letter to the country's lost wilderness, an exploration of violence in the American character, an examination of the limits of pacifism and a rumination on the conflict between religion and science.

Mr. Mosher will appear at Quailridge Books in Raleigh, NC on Friday, March 19, 2010 at 7:30pm.


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