When Cayatu, a beautiful, young Chumash woman begs protection from the Franciscan priests at Mission Santa Barbara she’s forced to live a captive life, with only the love of a Chumash man and the friendship of a Mexican woman to sustain her.
While the Spanish priests and soldiers fight among themselves for power, land and the souls of the Chumash, Cayatu fights to preserve her old way of life.
Against a backdrop of romance and intrigue in Santa Barbara’s early mission days, Dream Helper tells of the clash between the Christianizing zeal of the Spaniards and the idyllic, spirit-driven world of the fiercely proud Chumash Indians.
As she climbed above the trees, she looked down on the landscape spread out below her. She gasped at the sight of a world far bigger than any she’d ever imagined. Far to the west, she saw dark dots upon the land and thought they might be grazing cattle. Was Tomas with them now? To the east she saw all the way to her old valley where tendrils of smoke hung in the air. In front of her, the ocean rippled, flashing points of light at her. The islands floated on the horizon like sleeping whales, and the ocean beyond stretched forever.
The knot in her stomach grew tighter when she thought of leaving this land of her mother and father and their mothers and fathers who had lived here since First People showed them how to be free. A moaning sound escaped her as she understood how much of her old life was lost.
Lost were bright days when she went with Massilili and Tanayan to the beach, collecting shells at the margin of sand and ocean, where rotting kelp’s familiar stench assaulted their noses. So too were the evenings when she knelt at the cooking fire with her sister grinding acorns into coarse meal, as smoke rose outside a hundred huts. Lost was a young girl, standing proudly beside her father as he launched a new tomol, smelling of the pine pitch and tar that would keep it dry on its voyage to Limuw. All she clung to now was a memory of the young man, Ysaga. But he was lost, too.
'Dream Helper: A Novel of Early California'
By Carol Chybowski, Noozhawk Contributor
Tuesday, 29 January 2008
Humans are restless beings. Throughout our history, we have traveled endlessly, exploring and then trading with whomever we found at the end of the trail. Most times it seems we were not content to simply go home again, but found reasons to stay in the new land and convert it to our way of thinking.
This ancient story plays out again in Dream Helper: A Novel of Early California, Willard Thompson's work of historical fiction set in early Santa Barbara. Told mainly from the point of view of Cayatu, a young Chumash woman, the novel captures the dilemma faced by the Chumash as Spanish conquerors took over their ancestral home. By the time the story opens, the presence of the Spanish settlers and soldiers is indisputable. They will not be expelled, and show no signs of tolerating the existing Chumash culture. There seems to be no way for the local Chumash to keep their culture in the face of opposition from both the army and the Mission.
Dream Helper explores the interplay between these three groups as all come to grips with the changing face of coastal Santa Barbara. Each has its own unique vision of what that future should be. The hardships faced by the Chumash take center stage here. Readers familiar with the Scott O’Dell classics, Island of the Blue Dolphins and Zia, will already be aware that legal justice was not on the side of the Chumash. Thompson exposes this truth with more hard-edged details than O’Dell did. This honesty is to be valued highly, but the grimmer details make this novel unsuitable for younger readers.
Santa Barbara Independent
Willard Thompson's New Book Dream Helper: A Novel of Early California
by Elena Gray-Blanc
Willard Thompson, author of Dream Helper, says it's "really a very simple story." In a sense, that's true: the action moves right along and adheres very faithfully to the real history of the period from 1786 to the 1820s. However, the theme underlying this adventurous tale is more complex: the culture clash between Spanish soldiers, Franciscan priests, and the native Chumash Indians.
Cayatu, a young Chumash girl is the heroine of this story in every sense of the word. Not only is she the protagonist, but she does what everh heroine should: She takes matters into her own hands. An outcast from her own native village because of her refusal to marry a man chosen for her by her brother-in-law, she turnes to the Franciscans for shelter. Throughout the course of years she discovers truths about herself and about her future that are impossible to ignore; in short, she grows up.
Thompson was inspired to tell this story through Cayatu's eyes because of documents he found while researching Santa Barbara history. They mention a woman by that name who was one of the first Chumash to be baptized by the Franciscans. The author said he "began imaging why [the Chumash] would have chosen to leave their villages and go to the mission" and out of this thought process the novel grew.
The mixture of historical setting and fictional narative makes Dream Helper the vivid story that it is. Thompson's goal was "never [to let] the history get in the way of a good story," and he has accomplished that with style. Historical novelists from Alexandre Dumas to Colleen McCullough have struggled with the same condundrum of how to mix fact with fancy, and Thompson has solved it as well as any.
If Thompson wanted to ensure that the facts wouldn't interfere with the compelling qualities of the fiction, it's clear that he intended the book to stand as a historical account as well. As a book club read for Santa Barbarans it might be a great pick; it's easy for those who know the city to visualize the lay of the land between the presidio and the Mission, where much of the action takes place. It's also fun to imagine what it might have looked like before the city grew up around those two landmarks, and Thompson has rendered the landscape well.
There's one caveat, however, for readers who want to delve into this fictional account of early Californa. Shelly Lowenkopf, who is quoted on the back cover text, suggests the book for "young readers" but some portions of the book might be described as adult in content. One scene in pacticular, in which a Spanish soldier commits a brutal rape, and several others with fairly graphic sex, would be unsuitable for younger children. Although these episodes work to advance the narrative, they're certainly spicier than what you'd find in a typical history book.
That being said, the characters in Dream Helper are memorable, the action is intesne, and the poignant portrait of a culture's last struggles for survival is worth the read. the author likes the setting and his characters too much to stop now; a sequel set between 1803 and 1846, Delfina's Gold, will be available soon. "It is a period of conflict and intrigue," Thompson said. "Against that I want to tell another story about believable characters with strong goals and real emotions.
That, after all, is the purpose of a historical novel and Thompson's next effort will likely be as enjoyable as his first.
A captivating novel from first page to last, Midwest Book Review
..."Dream Helper: A Novel of Early California" tells of a young Native woman who in desperation submits to captivity under Franciscan priests in Santa Barbara California, long before the region was even a state of the Union. Cayatu must overcome it all to reunite herself with her love, and to preserve her old way of life in spite of the Spaniards who care not about her people. "Dream Helper: A Novel of Early California" is a captivating novel from first page to last and a must for historical fiction enthusiasts with an interest in the old west.
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