It was supposed to be just a just a routine visit to Reit’al…
When Casitian physician Jam’elo makes a research trip to the western United States in 1859, he quickly becomes emotionally involved with Earth and its inhabitants. His visit brings great healing to many: the patients whom he surreptitiously treats and cures with powerful Casitian medicines; Emma, the sensitive young slave whom he befriends; and Lena, the struggling farm widow with whom he finds himself unexpected, passionate love. Although Civil-War-era life isn’t easy for a mixed-race visitor from another planet, Jam’elo uses his quick wit (and his secret arsenal of Casitian technology) to keep himself out of trouble – until his fateful decision to accompany Lena to her family home in Virginia. On that harrowing journey, Jam’elo learns more about slavery than he had ever hoped to know, and the boundary-crossing couple are plunged into circumstances that threaten both their love and their survival.
An Author with a Unique Creative Vision
As my subject header suggests, the thing that appeals to me most about Michelle Murrain’s book (the only one of the series I’ve read so far) is the opportunity to delve into the complex universe she has created. This is the real thing; the creative mind given free rein to rebuild the world without regard to what you or I think. I’m a fan of this sort of approach–the Ursula K LeGuin approach, the JRR Tolkein approach. You go, girl.
In terms of the story itself, the interest for me was the harmony–or rather, dissonance–between the historical world of the Civil War era society and the alien society. To read about believable characters who do not feel inner vulnerability or self-doubt, who have an unblemished sense of self-worth is quite an experience for any reader. The various characters are all written with great realism and their adventures are all compelling. One star off for the factually accurate but unrealistic flatness of much of the dialog, which tends to proselytize, but which does not spoil the book in any way, as it is clearly part of the author’s vision. — Ellen J. Larson, Amazon Review
Saint Paul, Minnesota, 117 Paqn, 742/April 13, 1859
Jam’elo turned around, even though he knew he wouldn’t see the shuttle leave. He heard the rushing sound, and felt the stiff breeze it kicked up as it was taking off. He turned back around to see the first group of houses in the distance, on the edge of the city. He had a long walk ahead of him.
It was a clear day, and warm to Jam’elo. It was only early spring here, and he could see flowers of very unfamiliar types starting to bloom. He could tell that spring was going to be a much more rapid and boisterous affair than it was on Casiti. As he walked, he could see the small farmhouses, and varied domestic animals grazing. It was quiet mostly, save for the sounds of birds singing.
He had a small bag with him with his clothing, appropriate for the setting, his medical equipment, his recorder for logs, and a few other things. He expected to spend a few months in Saint Paul, then travel to two or three other places before the end of the expedition next year at the end of Musb. That would be about four Earth years of exploration and research. He was eager to see what lay ahead.
There were few people in the streets this morning. He heard a clop clop sound coming up behind him, and he turned around to see a large animal that he knew was called a “horse”. There was an older man sitting on top of the horse.
The man asked, “Where are you headed, boy?”
Jam’elo answered, “Hello. I’m on my way to the center of town. I have some business there.” The first thing he needed to do was exchange a small bit of gold into local currency. Then he would find his way to a hospital.
“What kind of business?” Jam’elo thought that the man’s demeanor was strange. His tone seemed hostile. The man shifted his horse to block Jam’elo’s way. Jam’elo wanted to be friendly, but careful.
“I’ve been traveling quite a lot. I’m a doctor. I’m on my way to the hospital.”
Even though Jam’elo didn’t know the man, he could tell the man was suspicious.
“Where are you from?”
“I am from far away—not from this continent.”
“Boy, you look more like you came up from the South.”
Jam’elo wanted to end this conversation and move on. He wasn’t quite sure what this man would do next.
“I didn’t come from the South. I need to keep walking; I hope you have a nice day.” Jam’elo started to walk around the horse, whose head followed him as he circled it. At first, he thought the man would prevent him from walking on, but the man let him go. After a few paces, Jam’elo looked back, and saw the man staring at him. He turned and kept walking.
As he continued his way into the center of town, there were more people walking about, and he garnered quite a number of stares. He finally made his way to the gold merchant—an obvious facade let him know where it was—and he walked in. There were several men sitting behind counters with scales, and only a few customers. He made his way to one of the clerks.
“Hello. I have some gold I need to exchange.”
“Well, let me look at it.”
Jam’elo had been given several ounces of gold for exchange. He gave a small pouch with the first bit of gold to the clerk. The clerk emptied it onto a scale. He looked at Jam’elo.
“That’s 2.5 ounces of gold. That’s worth 43 dollars and 20 cents today. That’s a lot of money, boy. Where did you get this gold?”
Jam’elo was mystified by all of this suspicion. He couldn’t understand what warranted it. And he couldn’t figure out why this man, and the man on the horse, thought he was underage.
“I’m a traveler from far away, and I was told that gold was the best thing to exchange for money once I got out West.”
“How far away is your home?”
“Very far. I’m not from this continent.”
The man laughed, and said, “You surely talk strangely, but I find that hard to believe.”
Jam’elo spread his hands. “Believe whatever you’d like. Will you exchange the gold?”
The clerk got up from his chair, and went into the back, and returned with a man wearing a different sort of attire. It looked to Jam’elo to be much more formal, with more layers. And it was darkly colored. He wondered if the man got hot in those clothes.
This new man asked, “What’s your name?”
“My name is Jam’elo Kadarin.”
“What kind of name is that?”
“I’m from far away from here.”
“Have you ever seen the city of New York?” Jam’elo had spent a few days in New York quite recently. The expedition had a training facility there where everyone went first.
“Yes, I’ve been to New York.”
“What’s that new big park they are building in…?”
“It’s called ‘The Central Park’ in Manhattan”
The man looked thoughtful, then said to his clerk, “Exchange the gold.”
Jam’elo took the money, and walked out of the merchant, in search for somewhere to stay. It ended up being a very frustrating experience. The first and second places he went men at the door refused to let him enter at all. The third place was a small, older hotel, where he had to walk through a saloon to get to the proprietor to find out about the room. Before he even got halfway through the saloon, his way was blocked by several men, and it appeared that he would be the catalyst for some sort of violent outbreak, so he turned around and left quickly.
He walked down to the fourth place he had been told about. It was a large house close to the outskirts of town. It looked quite run-down, compared to the others he had seen. The surface of the building was flaking off, and the steps and porch looked like they needed repair. No sign suggested that it was a rooming house, but there were many people coming and going. He walked up the steps onto the porch, and peered in the door, to see a woman behind a desk, staring at him. He walked over to her.
“I’m looking to rent a room for a while.”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry, but we don’t rent any rooms to coloreds.”
“Excuse me? I’m not what you think…”
“You sure look like one.”
Jam’elo sighed. “I do need lodging, and I’m not familiar with this city. Do you have any suggestions?”
“I’d try out on the West Side. There are some people who might rent you a room.”
Jam’elo left, and walked toward the west side of town. It was getting late, and he hoped he would be able to find a place to stay for a while. This was outside of his expectation based on the experiences of other Casitian students in the past, although this was a very different context than any Casitians had encountered before. A night or two out in the open wouldn’t kill him, but he was frustrated, and felt close to giving up. He’d been able to obtain some fruit from a vendor, but he had been viewed with so much suspicion that he feared going into one of those places where they served food.
He saw a man with a dark skin tone selling a variety of items from his cart, and thought that it would be a good idea to ask him for advice on finding a place to stay.
“Hey. I got some tinctures, here—want some? I got fresh honey, too.”
“Actually, I’m looking for a place to stay.”
The man shook his head. “A place to stay? You gotsta be careful ‘round here.”
“I haven’t been able to find a place.”
“I ain’t surprised. Look, my brother’s family has a room dey rent, and last I heard it was empty. I sure dey rent it to you. Dey de Chisslers. Dey live over dere on dat street two streets down.”
“What’s the name of the street?”
He laughed. “It don’t have a name. It’s de one with de yellowish house on de corner. Just go down a couple houses, and ask someone.”
“Thank you very much.”
Jam’elo walked down to the street, and was directed by an older, very friendly woman to the Chissler house. It was a smaller house than some on the block, but it clearly had been well taken care of. There were flowers planted in the front, and the outside looked a lot newer and brighter than many he had passed. He knocked, and a woman answered. She was tall, and was wearing a simple blue dress with an apron.
“May I help you?”
“Yes, my name is Jam’elo. Your relative who sells from the cart told me that you have a room to rent. I’m looking for a place to stay.”
“Yes, we have a room. The room and board is two dollars. If you want to help around the house, the room’ll be one-fifty. We’re almost finished painting, and we could use some help with that.”
“Painting? I don’t know what that is, but I can help.”
The woman frowned at him. “How long you gonna stay?”
“I’m not sure—possibly a couple of months.”
“Well, I need to talk to my husband, and he’s out working now. He be back soon. Come in… Jameelo, and have a seat. Are you hungry?”
“Thanks, yes, I am.”
He followed her into the modest dwelling, and she directed him to sit at the table in the kitchen. He noticed the primitive cooking implements. The inside of the house looked as well taken care of as the outside.
“My name is Dina. My husband’s name is Lou.”
“Nice to meet you, Dina.”
“I got a pot of pea soup. Want some?”
Jam’elo had no idea what pea soup was, but he figured it was good. Everything he’d eaten so far was good to his taste.