Book Review: The Healing of Natalie Curtis by Jane Kirkpatrick

  • Title: The Healing of Natalie Curtis
  • Author: Jane Kirkpatrick
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Would I recommend: Absolutely. Jane Kirkpatrick weaves a tale second to none.

From Goodreads:

Classically trained pianist and singer Natalie Curtis isolated herself for five years after a breakdown just before she was to debut with the New York Philharmonic. Guilt-ridden and songless, Natalie can’t seem to recapture the joy music once brought her. In 1902, her brother invites her to join him in the West to search for healing. What she finds are songs she’d never before encountered–the haunting melodies, rhythms, and stories of Native Americans.

But their music is under attack. The US government’s Code of Offenses prohibits American’s indigenous people from singing, dancing, or speaking their own languages as the powers that be insist on assimilation. Natalie makes it her mission not only to document these songs before they disappear but to appeal to President Teddy Roosevelt himself, who is the only man with the power to repeal the unjust law. Will she succeed and step into a new song . . . and a new future?

Award-winning author Jane Kirkpatrick weaves yet another lyrical tale based on a true story that will keep readers captivated to the very end. 

My review:

Natalie Curtis was a classically trained musician with a bright future ahead of her, or so she thought. But she suffered a breakdown that left her a shadow of herself, and she hid herself away from the world, physically, mentally, and emotionally weakened. Her brother George, back home from the West where he’s been working and traveling, invites Natalie to join him. Against her mother’s wishes, and with the caveat that she’ll return home after just two months, Natalie sets off with George in hopes of finding healing, a new hope at living again.

She finds her spark in the music of the Indian people, who have largely been removed from their homelands and placed onto reservations with the government instruction that they must assimilate. Natalie is shocked by the horrific injustice of the government’s Code of Offenses, which requires, among other things, that the native peoples refrain from singing their songs, performing their dances and ceremonies, and speaking their languages. Natalie sets out to preserve as much of the Indian music as she can, fearing it will be lost forever, and in doing so, she rediscovers and recreates her own song.

Jane Kirkpatrick has a positive gift for taking little-known historical figures and bringing them to life with her words. I’d never heard of Natalie Curtis before having the chance to be on the review team for this book. But now I feel the need to learn more about her.

Kirkpatrick paints a wonderful picture of Natalie as a young woman, in the public eye as a musician but still sheltered, who’s suffered a derailment of her life plans. She’s hidden herself away from public scrutiny, but she’s ready to move forward in spite of her mother’s desire to continue to protect her. She knew something had to change, and she was going West whether her mother agreed or not. “Most important, she wasn’t seeking permission. She was intentionally stepping into the grace pause, bringing the past with her, and for the first time in so long, the tempo of her life had picked up.” Doesn’t that sound remarkably hopeful?

Curtis’ journey isn’t portrayed as an easy one, though. She had to learn to navigate new things like horseback riding, and travel rougher than a young lady of her social status was accustomed to. She had to find a way to reach out to the Indian people whose culture she wanted to preserve without making it about her. In Kirkpatrick’s telling of her story, Natalie Curtis rises to the occasion and overcomes the challenges she faces. Not only does she travel far and wide and record songs from a variety of tribes, she learns that the thing she thought had broken her in the past didn’t merit the importance she had placed upon it. In finding a way to free the Indians to sing their songs, Natalie finds the music hasn’t left her after all.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’d love to track down a copy of Curtis’s The Indians’ Book and see her writing for myself. Jane Kirkpatrick’s story has me wanting to know more about the events she describes, and isn’t that what good historical fiction should do?

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the Revell Reads blogger program. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

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