The Lost Journals of Sacajewea: A Novel

The Lost Journals of Sacajewea: A Novel

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A June 2023 Indie Next Pick, Selected by Booksellers
Minneapolis Star Tribune Recommended Fiction Read for 2023
Millions Most Anticipated Read for 2023
Library Journal Recommended Read for 2023
A Motherly Best Book of 2023

From the award-winning author of Perma Red comes a devastatingly beautiful novel that challenges prevailing historical narratives of Sacajewea.

“In my seventh winter, when my head only reached my Appe’s rib, a White Man came into camp. Bare trees scratched sky. Cold was endless. He moved through trees like strikes of sunlight. My Bia said he came with bad intentions, like a Water Baby’s cry.”

Among the most memorialized women in American history, Sacajewea served as interpreter and guide for Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. In this visionary novel, acclaimed Indigenous author Debra Magpie Earling brings this mythologized figure vividly to life, casting unsparing light on the men who brutalized her and recentering Sacajewea as the arbiter of her own history.

Raised among the Lemhi Shoshone, in this telling the young Sacajewea is bright and bold, growing strong from the hard work of “learning all ways to survive”: gathering berries, water, roots, and wood; butchering buffalo, antelope, and deer; catching salmon and snaring rabbits; weaving baskets and listening to the stories of her elders. When her village is raided and her beloved Appe and Bia are killed, Sacajewea is kidnapped and then gambled away to Charbonneau, a French Canadian trapper.

Heavy with grief, Sacajewea learns how to survive at the edge of a strange new world teeming with fur trappers and traders. When Lewis and Clark’s expedition party arrives, Sacajewea knows she must cross a vast and brutal terrain with her newborn son, the white man who owns her, and a company of men who wish to conquer and commodify the world she loves.

Written in lyrical, dreamlike prose, The Lost Journals of Sacajewea is an astonishing work of art and a powerful tale of perseverance—the Indigenous woman’s story that hasn’t been told.


Praise for The Lost Journals of Sacajewea

“A formally inventive, historically eye-opening novel.”—New York Times

“[In The Lost Journals of Sacajewea] the suffering—and bold, ingenious agency—of women held as captives by both Native and Euro-Americans is rendered with special vividness [. . .] The narration is rich in realistic detail but animated by a dreamlike intensity [. . .] Throughout the text, Sacajewea memorably enacts what Gerald Vizenor dubs survivance, the negotiation of existential challenges with a spirited, oppositional inventiveness. A profoundly moving imagining of the impressions and contributions of a major historical figure."Kirkus Reviews, starred review

 “A much-anticipated and gorgeous book from Debra Magpie Earling. The Lost Journals of Sacajewea is immersive and engaging, drawing the reader into a new way of seeing what we think we know of the story of Sacajewea.”—June 2023 Indie Next List, Mara Panich, Fact & Fiction, Missoula, MT

"Earling adds a much-needed Native woman’s perspective to Sacajewea’s story, bringing a note of resilience to her unflinching account of the white men’s violence and depredation: 'Women do not become their Enemy captors. We survive them.' This is a beautiful reclamation."Publishers Weekly

[The Lost Journals of Sacajewea] offers new perspective on what is known, and debated, about the life of Sacajewea, including her age, her marriage to a French fur-trader (Toussaint Charbonneau), and her experience as the only woman traveling on the 1804-1806 Corp of Discovery expedition with Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. In poetic prose, Earling interweaves factual accounts of Sacajewea’s life with a first-person narrative deeply rooted in the physicality of landscape and brutality of the times”Jessica Gigot, Seattle Times

“[The Lost Journals of Sacajewea is] an impressionistic, poetic account, one that vividly renders external hardships and internal thoughts, giving equal weight to each. [. . .] it delivers a uniquely thorough perspective on the mind of a particular young woman, both ordinary and extraordinary. In this way, we come to understand Sacajewea more deeply—certainly more than we understand the men of famous names like Lewis and Clark. lt’s a book to enjoy like a river: you give yourself over to it and follow where it takes you.”Greer Macallister, Chicago Review of Books

“Earling ‘shatters’ conventional form to create a movement that is akin to poetry but much more dynamic. Earling bends and slants words, electrifying Sacajewea’s attempts to comprehend and describe what is happening in her often violent and unstable world .[ . . .] Earling creates immersive landscapes where women like Sacajewea and Louise Yellow Knife [from Perma Red] are given an opportunity to speak; she writes with distinct, unflinching attention even as her characters suffer brutal physical and sexual violence.”—Maggie Neal Doherty, High Country News

 “Earling lets Sacajewea tell her own story, in her own voice, revealing a complex, determined woman who makes hard choices in the face of ongoing loss and violence. It’s a beautiful and ultimately hopeful novel that lays bare many important truths about American history and myth-making.”—Book Riot, 20 Must-Read Books of Indigenous Historical Fiction”

"The most remarkable thing about Debra Magpie Earling’s second novel, The Lost Journals of Sacajewea,is how uncompromising it is in its vision of a precolonial consciousness. [. . .] Through Sacajewea’s voice, Earling rejects traditional English narrative forms as well as the sanitized version of westward expansion. Sacajewea’s words never delineate between her mind and her body, between people and the natural world around her, between the present and the eternal, between prose and poetry—dualities westerners and Western literature take for granted. As a result, the novel records a life story that at once feels representative of the historical violence indigenous women have faced and survived, but also a life story burdened by a place in popular history that is not Sacajewea’s, was never meant to be hers. [. . .] Earling gives fluidity in one’s body, in one’s place in society, in one’s place in the natural world, that many Americans cannot fathom."Carlos Zayas-Pons, Sewanee Review

“[Earling’s] lyrical novel brings this mythologized figure [Sacajewea] to life, casting unsparing light on the men who brutalized her and recentering Sacajewea as the arbiter of her own history, which is, ultimately, one of survival. [Earling’s] book is a tool of and for empathy, not so much one of understanding each word or experience, but of feeling.”—Lauren Corn, The Write Question

“We all know the story of Sacajewea from the perspective of Lewis and Clark, but Earling reframes the narrative around Sacajewea’s voice.”Garden & Gun

“At its surface, this may be a novel, but deeper down, it’s a spirit- song, an invocation, a magical incantation. The language simultaneously keeps Sacajewea unknowable and gives us a path to greater understanding. The poetic prose elevates it from a tragic story to a founding mythic ethos of America. In this, Earling has given us a new model for the literature of the West. The Lost Journals of Sacajewea changes how novels will be written, or at least it should.”—Marc Beaudin, Big Sky Journal 

“Earling’s Sacajawea rewrites the version of herself handed down through American history. Her life before the expedition comes into vivid focus, as do her complicated feelings about her role in charting the course for American imperialism.”The Millions, Most Anticipated Books of 2023

“[The Lost Journals of Sacajewea] brings long-overdue reclamation to storytelling for Native voices everywhere.”—Motherly, Best Books of 2023

“An Indigenous author redefines the legacy of Sacajawea, the famed Shoshone guide and translator for the Lewis and Clark expedition.”—Pittsburgh City Paper

“This is easily one of the best works of literature this year. I loved it. In beautiful, impressionistic chapters that flow between prose, prose poetry, and poetry, Debra Magpie Earling centers Sacajewea in her own, vibrant world.”—Jennifer Martin, Tattered Cover, Denver, CO

“This book may be classified as a novel, but it arguably does more justice to Sacajewea’s story than many of the sanitized historical recounts of her life—not hiding the fact that she was stolen, sold, brutalized, and pregnant, all before the age of twelve. Earling wrote The Lost Journals of Sacajewea for the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition, now finally published in book form to read worldwide. Essential for any American History reader.”—Andrew King, Secret Garden, Seattle, WA


 “In Debra Magpie Earling’s brave, unique, and poetic telling of the life of Sacajewea, we see what was probably the truth of a young Native American girl growing up as a Lemhi Shoshone over two hundred years ago, not the tales we were told of her in so many other stories. I loved this haunting and memorable novel so much.”—Sarah Willis, Loganberry Books, Shaker Heights, OH

 “The Lost Journals of Sacajewea is the very definition of fictionalized but true. Debra Magpie Earling reclaims Sacajewea’s story, of which the Louis and Clark expedition was only a small part. Told in a visceral, distinctive, poetic style, this stunning offering chronicles the life of a Lemhi Shoshone girl—stolen, broken, and returned, changed. Sacajewea is brought to life within these pages; her young but reverent worldview colors every moment. This book illustrates the breathtaking violence of colonization and empowers those who will not be erased.”—Mary Wahlmeier Bracciano, Raven Book Store, Lawrence, KS

 “An incredible novel from Debra Magpie Earling that totally reframes the mythology of Sacajewea into something closer to the truth. Covering her kidnapping, the slaughtering of her people, the sexual abuses she endured, and her meeting Lewis and Clark; Earling strips away the legends and reveals the inner life of this young girl. Not an easy read but a necessary one and one written with poetic language.”—Caleb Masters, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC


 “Debra Magpie Earling’s powerful retelling of Sacajewea’s story is a salient reminder that history, as it has been told, cannot always be trusted. With her signature dreamlike prose she gives voice to a woman often painted as the willing participant in an arduous journey. In Earling’s poetic retelling, we are forced to imagine the unimaginable reality of a young girl sold by her captives to famed French trader Charbonneau who makes her his wife and the mother of his child as a teenager. This is not an easy read, but one anyone living along the romanticized path of Lewis and Clark should move to the top of their to-be-read pile.”—Katrina Mendrey, Chapter One Bookstore, Hamilton, MT

 “Sacajewea is a girl who had almost everything taken away from her. Her people, her innocence, her name and her existence. After she’s stolen from her people she’s enslaved to Charbonneau, a cruel and seedy trapper, who joins the Lewis and Clark expedition. She exists through their journals and here, we have her reimagined journals in her voice. Through Sacajewea’s eyes, we see the beginning of the brutal waste that the expedition wreaks upon the lands. Despite brutal content, this beautifully rendered prose is both lyrical and evocative.”—Audrey Huang, Belmont Books, Belmont, MA

 “Debra Magpie Earling brings not only Sacajewea’s voice to the page but also her family’s, her tribe’s and her land’s. So little of this story involves Lewis and Clark and we are all the better for it. Finally, we get to see the story before the journey: the harrowing and beautiful land, the stories and experiences shared by women, and their experience beyond the varnish that has long coated the stories of Lewis and Clark.”—Chelsia Rice, Montana Book Company Redux, Helena, MT

 “The Lost Journals of Sacajewea tells the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition from the point of view of the young Shoshone interpreter, who, a child herself, carries her own child on her back the whole way. Combining the supernatural spirit world with an indigenous relationship to the native world, this novel has an incredibly unique and solemn voice.”—Ellie Ray, Content Book Store, Northfiend, MN

 “More than move novels (and nonfiction) that deal with colonialism, this book shows the multiple levels of subtelty between different types of ‘enemies’—tribal enemies; white men who are trying to live in the area; white men who are violently taking land, people, and items; and the prideful expeditionaries that make up the Lewis and Clark journeys. . . . While all assume dominance over the young Sacajewea, Debra Magpie Earling shows that Sacajewea’s interactions with and observation of these groups are vastly different. Earling’s prose is by turns dense and shimmering, difficult and flowing in ways that require the reader to be present like not many other books—and that’s not a bad thing! It allows for the readers to be able to fully appreciate the observations of the world that Sacajewea, and through her eyes, the reader, is part of. The text grows and expands beyond the confines of the paper, entering into the minds and spirit of the reader so that they may view their surroundings differently—to see the land around them differently, hopefully even with a disgust at the loss of contact between the spirits of this land and the blindness through which most of us walk through our lives.”—Jesse Hassinger, Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, MA

“If the Olympics awarded medals for feats of the imagination, this book would be good for the Gold. Marvelously dreamed, starkly and poetically told. The story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition will never be the same.”—Ted Kooser, author of Delights and Shadows

About the Author

Debra Magpie Earling is the author of Perma Red and Lost Journals of Sacajewea. An earlier version of the latter, written in verse, was produced as an artist book during the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition. She has received both a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is retired from the University of Montana, where she was named professor emeritus in 2021. She is Bitterroot Salish.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Milkweed Editions (May 23, 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 264 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1571311459
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1571311450
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 15.2 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.75 x 1 x 8.5 inches

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