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Publisher's Summary

Set in the 1850s, The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton speaks to you in a splendidly quirky voice: the strong, wry, no-nonsense voice of Lidie Harkness of Quincy, Illinois, a young woman of courage, good sense, and good heart. It carries you into an America so violently torn apart by the question of slavery that it makes our current political battlegrounds seem a peaceable kingdom.

Lidie grows increasingly important to you as you follow her travels and adventures on the feverish eve of the War Between the States. With its crackling portrayal of a totally individual and wonderfully articulate woman, its storytelling drive, and its powerful recapturing of an almost forgotten part of the American story, Jane Smiley is at her enthralling and enriching best.

©1998 by Jane Smiley; (P)1998 by Random House, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"An immensely appealing heroine, a historical setting converyed with impressive fidelity, a charming and poignant love story." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
  • Donna
  • brooklyn, NY, USA
  • 05-26-05

Teriffic book, outstanding production

I have been an avid audiobook listener for many years, and this is truly the best I've ever heard. The narrator is spectacular and the book is every bit as wonderful as the narration. I can't say enough good things about this production.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

one of my favorites

I loved ths audio book. I listened to it while driving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles and it made the time fly by. A great epic story perfect for anyone who likes historical fiction or anyone who was a tomboy.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Magnificent, perfect for these troubled times

Funny -- when this book first came out, I, being a confirmed Jane Smiley fan, bought it, a paper copy, but try as I might, I couldn't get into it. I abandoned the book maybe 50 pages in. A few years later, I was in the local public library and saw they had the book on cassettes. I needed a long audiobook, so I checked it out. What a difference!

Anna Fields makes all the difference -- hearing "Lidie" tell us her story makes it all the more personal and intimate. Ms. Fields voice is ideal, not too cultured, not too much of a twang, just the way I'd expect Lidie to sound. I just finished listening to "The All True Adventures" again, this time on Audible, and know I'll go back to this one over and over. It's a classic.

In an interview, Smiley said she wrote this book as a romance, which, I suppose, it maybe is, given the basic fact that Lidie and her just-met husband depart for the dangerous and embattled "KT" - Kansas Territories --on their wedding night, and one of the book's themes is their getting to know each other, literally.

But it isn't just the tale of the 'newlyweds -- newly-mets, in fact -- that's compelling. It's the story of the times, just before the "official" start of the War Between the States, when the "goose question" reigned supreme. The "goose question"? Back then, in the 1850's, in Missouri, Kansas and other 'border' states, the question of slavery was simply too hot to touch, too contentious to even pronounce the word. You couldn't come right out and ask someone what their politics were, for fear of starting a personal war, right then and there. So you used an euphemism instead, asking what their position on "the goose question" was -- and the answer better be right, with "right" depending where, specifically, you were standing. A wrong answer could -- and many times did -- get you killed.

Lidie's tale of what it was like to "settle" a new land -- a kind of "Little House on the Prairie", Kansas style. Settlers arrived with nothing, claimed their homesteads, built a structure to live in, tried to plant a few crops, learned to make do with what's available, and began to depend (or not) on neighbors, as everyone dealt with grinding poverty, sickness and death, all day, every day. But it's not all sadness, because the ever-optimistic Lidie and Thomas -- whom she's learning is a fine and honorable man -- doesn't complain so much as she prevails. She even manages to snag an actual glass window -- can you imagine? Still, time and again, the settlers are stopped in their tracks, have to start all over again -- claim jumpers take over their land, drive them off, burn their homes. Or thieves steal everything, walk away with whatever they can. Especially heartbreaking is Lidie's tale of the "Sacking of Lawrence", when 150 men in the abolitionist town of Lawrence, Kansas, were murdered in a raid by vicious street-fighters from Missouri, the town, animals, possessions of everyone there destroyed.

To say more would be a spoiler, other than to note this is an extremely timely tale. Today, in the US, equally contentious issues prevail, even if physical violence, one against another, isn't quite the same. Lidie's "All True Adventures" proves that's nothing new -- in fact, it's the way the nation was born, how it survived, how it grew and became what it was.

Today's "goose question" might very well be "Obamacare", or the question -- again -- of states rights, or of what role the government should play in everyday affairs. Nothing new under the sun -- the United (just barely) States is fighting it out again. Which means that to gain some perspective, "The All True Adventures" is a book not to be missed.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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History and entertainment!

Taught a wel educated southerner a thing or two ,and enjoyed every moment of it!!!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A Long Walk Across Kansas and Missouri

I have great respect for any author willing to do the thorough research that was required to write this novel. Smiley has taken a relatively obscure period of American history and brought it to life with an intriquing set of characters, all of whom feel very authentic. Liddie is very compelling as the main character and her reactions to the events that take place and the motivations for her decisions and behavior are very richly drawn.
That said, the novel is entirely too drawn out for the story being told. At times you get the sense that you're plodding along with some rather stolid characters as they walk endlessly along the prairies or roads, a significant part of the action that occurs in this novel. The story should have been told more cohesively and the characters should have been woven more tightly into the fabric of the tale. In particular, Frank's disappearance in the latter half of the story is barely countered by the brief explanations provided at the end. And Thomas, Liddie's husband, is a much thinner character and remains a mystery to the end, despite the fact that his decisions dictate much of the actions and rationale of the story.
That said, Liddie is a powerfully human character and a person well worth meeting. And once again, Anna Fields makes the entire experience a delight with her interpretation of a new array of regional accents. Smiley's book is well worth choosing for those two pleasures -- just be prepared for very long walk.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

yawn....

Unless you are an avid american history buff, with a 'hankerin' for some good ol' abolitionist, north vs. the south sort of historical fiction, then steer clear.
This story was not engaging, and the characters did not engender any real sympathy on the part of this reader. They are not well developed as characters, and at no point do you feel that you can relate to any of them, on any level at all. You don't feel what they feel, or see what they see, or truly sympathize with their dilemmas.
Although there is a sort of Mark Twain-ish style about the book, there is none of that classic Twain humour that keeps you reading and enjoying long beyond the plausibility of the story.
This book is a needlessly long-winded attempt at folk-history that sadly falls short of expectations.

6 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Sad but captivating

Sad how violent this time period was. Story was well written and well read. It has been on my list to read for years and finally got around to it. It was helping and interesting. Definitely worth the read!

  • Overall

Engrossing

I thoroughly enjoyed this dip into Lidie's life. The narration is incredible and the characters fascinating. I could sense the Kansas prairie, the confusion thoughts and emotions in Missouri and the need to depart Illinois and start the whole adventure. Sorry for the book to end.

  • Overall

Almost an Epic

I really enjoyed this book but when I got the the end I thought, "hmmm...the author must have run out of both printer ink and paper". It just ended abruptly and it felt like there was still so much more to know. Still, it's a great story and worth a listen.

  • Overall

A different time & place

I enjoyed this book very much. I love history and was not familiar with this Missouri/Kansas situation which foreshadowed the War Between the States.

The novel is written from Lidie's point of view. To me, this explains why some of the other characters were not as fully formed as other reviewers may have wanted them to be.

If you enjoy historical novels, give this one a try.