Mission: The Birth of California, The Death of a Nation
by Margaret Wyman
Category: Fiction / Historical
316 pages; ISBN: 1-931857-00-8
Rating: 7/10 (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Denise M. Clark
Mission: The Birth of California,
The Death of a Nation
By Margaret Wyman
Idyllwild Publishing Co. 2002
P.O. Box 355
Idyllwild, CA 92549
Reviewed by Denise M. Clark
Not since ‘Ishi-Last of his Tribe’ has there been such a thorough, extensively researched novel relating the demise of the California Indian. Ms. Wyman’s impressive venture into the world of missions, southern California history and the true state of the early Catholic Church in California is both disturbing and exhilarating.
The author’s research of the Kumeyaay Indians of Southern California brings life to her characters, which are as diffuse as the points of view rendered within the pages of this ‘live history lesson’. The story revolves around a young Kumeyaay girl named Web, so named because of her webbed fingers, and her struggle to fit into her new husband’s world. Moving from her lifelong home to his village of Nipaguay on the coast is a traumatic experience for Web, as is her at times unwelcome presence in her husband’s home.
As the young couple learns to get along with each other, they must also contend with encroaching Spaniards and their oppressive rule. While some readers may find this novel of passion, deceit and corruption a disturbing journey into the past, it is also an eye opening read that exposes the ‘rose-colored’ view that many have of Early California’s history. Ms. Wyman thoroughly squelches any thoughts that many of the mission’s founders and priests were as benevolent and kind as whitewashed history has led some to believe.
Ms. Wyman’s writing style is both professionally honed yet compassionate, and her ability to express a range of emotion from different characters is very well done. Her characters, from Spanish guards and priests to the various members of Web’s new family, are expertly rendered, each provoking emotion on some level, from compassion to disgust. Her narrative blends nicely with believable dialog, which is also riddled with the native language of the Kumeyaay tribe. This may not be an easy read, but it is certainly a rewarding one.
Ms. Wyman lives in the San Jacinto Mountains of southern California. She has been a programmer, scientist and salesperson, as well as author of numerous essays and articles, and two additional novels.