Book Review: Squanto And The Miracle Of Thanksgiving

Squanto And The Miracle Of Thanksgiving, by Eric Metaxas, illustrated by Shannon Stirnweis

As someone who cares a great deal about the keeping of and memory of Thanksgiving [1], I find books about Thanksgiving to be intriguing and worthy of reflection.  It is hard to tell how much a book is going to delve into some of the deeper and more problematic aspects of the fateful meeting between Squanto and the Pilgrims.  Now, to be sure, I had a great deal more faith in this book doing it right than I would in many other cases because I am deeply familiar with and highly appreciative of the author’s work as a whole and knew that this children’s book presented an opportunity for him to write something that was both accessible to children as well as in accordance with the historical record in a way that would prompt further interest and reading on behalf of readers without succumbing to the plague of political correctness.  Mind you, that is a difficult challenge, but in this short and often melancholy book, the author manages to succeed at this task, at least to my satisfaction, in providing accessible and factual writing that manages to convey historical truth without falling prey to easy point-scoring against descendants of European colonists.

The book is a straightforward tale in that it focuses on Squanto’s experience, at least as best as it can be understood from the historical record.  We see Squanto’s curiosity about European ships in light of the friendly littoral trade that had taken place between the people of his village and previous explorers, only to be kidnapped and sold into slavery in Spain.  His familiarity with the English leads him to work towards freedom from the friars who bought him and then to make it to England where he ends up waiting for a return trip to New England in a fishing vessel.  He finds that his home village was wiped out by disease and is deeply saddened and even traumatized by the experience, first living with a neighboring tribe and then surviving isolated in the woods.  The settlement of the Pilgrims in his deserted village leads another native to enlist his help in reaching out to the Pilgrims and Squanto finds himself helping the Pilgrims to survive through his agricultural knowledge.  The end result pays honor to the heavy losses of both early settlers and local tribes and points out the demographic realities of European as opposed to native populations that made the expansion of settler colonies irresistible over the long-term.

Whether or not one takes this tale as celebratory or melancholy or a bit of both–as I do myself–is up to the reader.  The author tells a familiar story, namely Squanto’s usefulness in helping the Pilgrims to survive, in a way that points out the brutish nature of early 17th century life, namely the realities of slavery, massive amounts of death, and exile and dislocation.  The author clearly portrays Squanto’s losses as massive, and gives a plausible reason as to why he would be willing to help the English, seeing as they did trade with him during his childhood and return him home after his freedom from slavery, and that they were helping his home village become populated once again.  Likewise, the author avoids easy comparisons by showing decency among all of the various sides of this story, from Squanto himself (most obviously) to the neighboring tribes that took him in as a stranger, to the gracious Pilgrims themselves and the friendly English merchants, to even the noble Spanish friars whose actions saved Squanto from a dismal fate of Spanish slavery.  In the face of deeply imperfect events, this book does strike one as a miracle in the sense of a eucatastrophe, of the turning of sorrow into (eventual) happiness and glory, and the rituals of reconciliation and gratitude that allow the lonely and outcast peoples portrayed here to make themselves at home in alien lands and unfamiliar situations.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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