A Land Remembered

A Land Remembered, Student Edition by Patrick D. Smith, Published in 2001. Two volumes, 448 total pages. The original, adult version of A Land Remembered was published in 1984.

I like all kinds of stories. I love the romantic realism of Jane Austen and the deep philosophical musings of Dostoyevsky. The unparalleled humor of P.G. Wodeouse never fails to make me smile, and the earthy realism of Zora Neale Hurston never fails to connect me to my childhood roots.

Recently, I read another book that sparked within me a love of my lifelong home even though the land remembered in this book is nothing like the place I call home. I have seen glimpses of the wild land described so affectionately described by Patrick Smith. Whether visiting the Everglades and watching the gators slide under water, or scouting for wild bison at Payne’s Prairie Preserve, it’s always a thrill to be reminded that this place wasn’t always what we see today. Very recently, as we “hiked’ a preserve, I watched in mild horror as my husband and oldest daughter chased after a bobcat in an effort to get a good photograph of it. They got the shot, but it wasn’t great. I, on the other hand, got a really nice picture of an alligator yawning on the river bank:

photo by me.

It is with all of these thoughts in mind that I began this best-selling, beloved and wildly acclaimed historical novel exploring the lives of three generations of Florida crackers who settled in the scrub of Florida’s southern central peninsula, right before the Civil War. The original novel offers a lot more “personal details” about the lives of the three generations of MacIvey men, and it’s a beautiful book. However, the historical accuracy combined with the vivid description of of wild, pre-civilized Florida prompted the publishers to produce a student edition to be used in classrooms. I will be using the book this fall, hence my reading and this review of the student edition. There is something about this story, one of hard scrabble living and overcoming obstacles that is different from every other kind of story.

Tobias MacIvey was 30 years old when he left Georgia with his young wife Emma, and very young son Zechariah to settle in southern central Florida, off the banks of the Kissimmee River. He knew a war was brewing, and it was his hope that he would find respite from the coming conflict in this wild and desolate place. Between the wilderness, the predators, and the lack of easy access to trading posts, life was much harder than he ever imagined it could be. And he knew it would be hard. Even hidden deep in the woods of uninhabited Florida, Tobias couldn’t fully escape the fallout of the war.

The book covers the lives of Tobias MacIvey, Zech, and Zech’s son Solomon. It begins in 1863 and ends in 1968. The family encounters much heartache, hardship, and grief along their way, but Tobias’ hard work combined with his love of the land and skill as a cattleman pays off.

Zech grows the family business even more, and Solomon transforms it into a real estate empire. As Solomon rapes the land, unaware of the long term implications of his business dealings, he creates a riff with his half brother Toby, born of Zech’s relationship with a young Seminole woman. By the end of his life, Solomon realizes the error of his ways, takes steps to preserve some of Florida’s yet untouched land, and makes peace with his half-brother Toby.

Throughout this century-long saga, the men fight off bears and wolves, get into bloody wars with cattle rustlers, and build life-long friendships with Seminole Indians as well as the newly freed slave who worked helping Tobias grow his cattle herding and orange growing business into a successful enterprise. A Land Remembered is a poignant, fast-paced, historically rich piece of literature. I highly recommend it.

Actually, I recommend the original if you’re all grown up:

A Land Remembered - Wikipedia

There are a lot of quotable quotes in A Land Remembered; so many I couldn’t rightly decide which portions of the story I could inject as a glimpse of the richness Patrick Smith captured. There was one quote, however, that made me literally laugh out loud, so I’ll close with it:

Being from Georgia originally, and not yet fully acquainted with the Florida landscape, Tobias has questions to ask about taking his lucrative herd of cattle across the river to market on his way to the west coast of Florida. He asks the man giving him direction about the presence of alligators in the river. This was the man’s reply:

“Is there ’gators in the river?” “Mister, there ain’t no water in Florida without ’gators, ’less you got a tub of it in your house. And one’s liable to get in there too if you leave the door open.”

Truth. We have suburban friends who have come home from work to find a gator on their driveway or in their pools.

4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Content advisory: There’s plenty of violence, peril and death in this book, including the student edition. It was a difficult time and the people lived harsh lives. While the student edition is abridged and made more suitable for young readers, Smith does leave in the plot wherein Zech has as “a wife and a half”; his public legal wife as well as his Seminole wife whom he only sees when he has a reason to travel to the Seminole village. If you have any reservations about this part of the story line, considered yourselves informed.

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