Home > fiction, I read it all, recommended > We Were Not Lost: Constance Kopriva

We Were Not Lost: Constance Kopriva

April 15, 2010

They are not Indians. That is a name some European gave to a people they thought were lost. They were not lost; it was the European who was lost.

Trenda, a young Pomo woman, lives in 1791 in the Valley of the Moons, which will become known as Sonoma Valley, California. Everything is alive, and all is holy. It is a perfect world with harmony and beauty between man and nature. Trenda tells her own story about being a shaman, seeing the future in her dreams, and learning to help heal her people. Eventually, she must leave home to marry Yosomo, a Miwok from the tribe by the sea. She is both happy and sad. When the Spanish come and destroy her perfect world, Trenda is separated from Yosomo. Treated like animals, they are forced to work. Trenda longs to be reunited with her husband and wants only what any human wants: to be free in the world she loves.

Constance Kopriva lives with her husband of thirty-three years in Sonoma, California, a forty-five mile drive north of San Francisco. They now own a few acres that long ago were part of (General) Vallejo Rancho. Obsidian shards and arrowheads, stone pestles, and mortars found on their land are evidence that early native people once lived there. After taking a class about Sonoma history and hearing a different version from a Pomo descendent regarding the Spanish conquest of early California, she was inspired to tell this story, We Were Not Lost.

We Were Not Lost should not work as a book. At times it reads like a Hollywood cowboys-and-indians script with its talk of “many moons” and “pale faces”; despite the writer’s obvious preference for a stereotypical, stilted writing-style I found several instances where a more contemporary language intruded; and at just fifty printed pages long it is no more than an over-long short story printed in book form. The author clearly doesn’t know the correct use of “lay” vs. “lie”; and I found some of the final sequences rushed and unbelievable. But you’ll notice that I mention the book’s final sequences: and that’s because I read it all in just one sitting.

Despite its problems, this story is clean and sparse and engaging. Not only it is fast-paced and vivid, it’s also a remarkably clean text with very few minor errors. And although I have my misgivings about the stereotypical view it gives of the people and events it portrays, I did enjoy it.

If I were the author I would strongly consider rewriting it with the aim of making it far less stereotypical. I would strip out the Hollywood-movie phrasing and replace it with a language which was less likely to set people’s cliché-alarms clanging; and I’d extend the story to include sub-plots, and to introduce more shades of grey into the central story: at present it’s very much “white equals bad, Pomo equals good”, and this means that the story is predictable and lacking in depth.

So, the writing is flawed, the storytelling lacks subtlety and texture; and yet I read it right to the end. For that reason I recommend it, but with reservations (and no, that’s not a pun). I hope that this author continues to write because despite my reservations I think she could eventually become very good, if she gets the right guidance and advice.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: