“Sarah Prine… is a force to be reckoned with – gun toting and fierce”
These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901, Arizona Territories by Nancy E. Turner was SO much more than I expected. And I don’t think I adored it simply because of the setting – my own Arizona backyard, only in the late 1800s. What a treat to see Cienega Creek, Silverbell Mine, Tucson, Phoenix, Tempe (then Hayden’s Ferry) on the pages. The mountains and river right outside my house were even mentioned!
Told through Sarah’s journal entries, this story resonated with me, even though, ironically, it’s the first western-setting historical novel I’ve ever read. Living here, I could relate to the desert’s beauty and its ferocity:
“The stream that used to flow down by the road looks like a great, brown, angry river. It makes a roaring that I hear under the pattering of the rain. Trees sweep by in it, brush and branches torn loose from somewhere, and I thought I saw a man floating by, but rushed out to help and it was just a big saguaro cactus.”
This description could be my own – of the wash that cuts through our driveway.
But I loved this story for much more than that familiarity. Sarah Prine, the main character, is a force to be reckoned with – gun toting and fierce – the mettle of which a woman in the Territories would have to be forged. What sticks with me most is how Turner crafted this strong and sometimes-stubborn woman in such a way that she did not come across overbearing. She was humble but strong, and just all-around likable. Maybe I loved her, too, because of her absolute adoration of books and learning.
Books, incidentally, are what lead her to the love of her life, for at its heart, this is a love story as well as a story of personal growth and empowerment. Books play a symbolic role in many passages as well:
“My life feels like a book left out on the porch, and the wind blows the pages faster and faster, turning always toward a new chapter faster than I can stop and read it.”
The trials and tribulations of life in the southwest during the late 1800s made for a fast-paced read, but was done in such a way that I seriously bonded with all of the characters in this story: Sarah and her husband Jack, her siblings Albert and Savannah, and Ernest – and all the other ancillary characters that colored the pages. I do believe Sarah will be in my mind for a long time to come, probably every time I stare out into the mountains in front of my home. And every time I shoot a gun.
Readers of historical fiction and those who love epistolary novels with strong female protagonists: THESE IS MY WORDS by Nancy E. Turner is for you.
(A version of this piece was published at GoodReads on October 8, 2013 by Melissa Crytzer Fry. Reposted here with permission of the post author.)
Looking forward to learning more about Sarah Agnes Prine and what happened to her after her diary. Hope it was survival.
Can’t wait to hear what you think!
ASU has a collection of journals from early ranchers and settlers. I had a chance to read a few many years ago. Even into the 1940’s women living outside of cities in the west had extremely challenging lives. Can’t wait to read this!