The Forest: A Fable of America in the 1830s is a “historical imagining of life in the early United States”. Written artfully by Alexander Nemerov, this books consists of 57 beautiful vignettes about famous, infamous and obscure characters from the 1830s. Each episode is relatively short, but Nemerov’s writing is succinct and precise.
Note that this book consists of fables or creative non-fiction. Much of it is real, but like all history, the details can often get distorted.
The characters consist of a wide range from murdered abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy, to famed French author Alexis de Tocqueville to an Onodaga chief Ut-ha-wah. There are moving yet sad tales about Nat Turner, Edgar Allen Poe, and a free black man named McIntosh. McIntosh is charged with a bogus crime and sentenced to death, a sickening legacy of that time period.
Birds in the 1830s
Of course I am drawn to the stories about wildlife, especially the birds in the 1830s. John James Audubon makes an appearance, bringing an owl “to life” in his painting. Also highly interesting is the tale of the “Townsend’s Bunting”. Discovered by ornithologist John Kirk Townsend, this bird was collected (shot) and is still preserved as a museum specimen. It is still not 100% identified and to my knowledge, another like it has not been found. Consensus says it is a variation of a Dickcissel (Spiza americana), but regardless, provides an interesting tale.
Setting as a Character
The American forest in the 1830s is something that words, art or even photographs can not adequately convey. No one living in the present can imagine the grandiosity of these landscapes. Sure, some remnants can still be visited, but the wildness and the magnitude of wildlife that inhabited the land is lost forever.
Every human inhabitant during this time period was hardier and faced challenges current Americans do not. Even the primitive fear of what lurked in the woods is largely gone. Thus, the woods that make up the setting for The Forest: A Fable of America in the 1830s act as a main character for the episodes throughout. It connects the entire book into one of cohesion from the chaotic lives of its other characters.
Included in The Forest are 48 pages of art, illustrations and photographs from depicting this time period. Some of the art consists of creations by the figures from the text. Others show the homes, landscapes, or portraits of these inhabitants. Some notable highlights include Audubon’s Barn Owl painting, a photograph of an animal skin tobacco bag and John Vanderlyn’s The Death of Jane McCrea. These plates are all referenced back to their related stories.
Birdfreak.com received a review copy of The Forest: A Fable of America in the 1830s from the publisher, Princeton University Press. The estimated publication date is March 7, 2023.