Chasing Family Down the California Gold Rush Trail
by Russell Wangersky
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Pub Date 27 Sep 2022 | Archive Date 01 Sep 2022
“Read him.” — George Elliott Clark, author of I & I and George and Rue
An award-winning author goes looking for the meaning of family and belonging on a glorious wild-goose-chase road trip across middle America
Wangersky’s great-great-grandfather crossed the continent in search of gold in 1849. William Castle Dodge was his name, and he was 22 years old. He wrote a diary of that eventful journey that comes into the author’s hands 160 years later. And typically, quixotically, Wangersky decides to follow Dodge’s westward trail across the great bulging middle of America, not in search of gold but something even less likely: that elusive thing called family.
What ensues becomes this story, by turns hilarious and profound, about a very long trip — by car, in Wangersky’s case, and on mule and foot in Dodge’s. Interweaving his experiences on the road with Dodge’s diary, the author contemplates the human need to hunt for roots and meaning as he — and Dodge — encounter immigrants who risk everything to be somewhere else, while only glimpsing those who are there already and who want to hold onto their claim in the stream of human migration.
Same Ground is a story about what time washes away and what persists — and what we might find, unexpectedly, if we go looking.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 5 members
Wangersky’s journalistic talent, insightful reflection and colourful life experiences stand him in good stead for this road trip book. It starts with Wangersky’s unearthing of a treasured family possession: a diary written in 1849 by his own great-great-grandfather William Castle Dodge who became drawn into the gold rush of 1849. Dodge travelled the breadth of the North American continent partly on foot, partly by car, and more than a century and a half later, Wangersky follows his trail, although from the comfort of his car. Wangersky is not in search of gold or monetary riches, but rather immaterial riches and a deeper understanding of his family roots. The ensuing book is therefore a reflective, often philosophical work on physical, emotional and psychological ‘travelling’ that does not depend on mileage covered. I read the ARC that I received several times and uncovered something new each time. Warmly recommended for everyone who wants to embark on a metaphorical or actual road trip, this engaging read has made me want to discover Wangersky’s back catalogue, too. Thank you to the publishers and to NetGalley for the free e-ARC that I enjoyed and that made this book review possible.
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