Have you ever read a book so fast that by the time you finished you were starting to forget part of it? Yup, me too. Even though I have read better books this one made me want to stop my life so I could find out what happens to this poor wild girl. I liked the construction, and while it wasn't as good as Fergus's other book One Thousand White Women I still liked it and we had a great discussion at book group. My book is full of sticky notes. I would call it an historical fiction adventure tragedy. There is about equal amounts of history, thrills, adventure, humor, and sadness.
The first eight pages seem to be inside the head of “La Nina Bronca” or “The Wild Girl” on the day of her capture by a white bounty hunter in 1932. Two and a half pages follow of old Ned Giles in 1999 talking of his imminent death and explaining what is to follow, which is his collection of notebooks from 1932 which begin with the death of his parents, his decision to become a photographer, and his adventure with the 1932 Great Apache Expedition. Interspersed with his notebook chapters are Wild Girl chapters also.
The expedition is actually a commercial event. Similar to one of those Hemingway or Teddy Roosevelt expeditions, this one is organized to go into Mexico to rescue the small son of a wealthy landowner who had been kidnapped by some wild Apaches, but it is also a guise for a hunting excursion. There will be all sorts of wild animals to kill and while it's not a crime to shoot Indians there are still rewards offered for Apache scalps in Mexico. The recruits pay a pretty exorbitant amount to be allowed to participate, and as you can imagine the cast of characters is amazing. Besides Ned, there is Tolley, a gay young man from a wealthy family who thinks an expedition may make a “man” out of him, Margaret, a female anthropology student, Big Wade Jackson, a hard-drinking obese photojournalist, and a very mean chief of police, just to name a few of the memorable characters.
When the expedition is held up by the discovery of an Apache girl in a jail on a hunger strike, Ned takes pity on her. He cleans her up, gets her to eat, but also takes a series of pictures of her. Then he gets the idea for the expedition to take her along to try to trade her to the Indians for the boy. Later in his life those pictures help make Ned his reputation as a photographer but during the expedition he has a love affair with her as well. While Ned's story begins in January of 1932 with the death of his parents and his independence, the adventures of the Great Apache Expedition begin in April and end in November. In between there is a lot of blood and guts, fighting, shooting, and killing, but also, learning, evolving characters and salvation. As you can guess, the expedition does not go as planned.
Fergus's notes, both in the book and on his website describe his research and relate the true stories upon which his book is based. There was a lot of history about those types of expeditions that I was not aware of and just the fact that it was legal to kill Indians in 1932 made me sick. It is a very good historical fiction read and I highly recommend it.