Historical fiction allows readers to inhabit characters of a time, yet it is also a means for authors to explore the world of real individuals. Sometimes those real individuals hold more personal significance for the writer than the reader. Such is the case with Marjorie Hersom’s Captive Bride, a novel of personal history, in which she traces her family’s lineage on the small western Pacific island of Bonin.
We read the tale of Maria del los Santos y Castro, stolen away by the privateer Matteo Mazarro at the age of fifteen from her home on Guam in the mid-1800s, to serve as a house slave on the remote Bonin (or Ogasawara) Islands. Readers experience a different kind of adventure story, one showing the consequences and lawlessness of colonization. But Hersom’s novella also chronicles how people adapt to environments and create community.
Enduring violence and a crippling upheaval, Maria displays an iron will, refusing to be victim to Mazarro. Rather, she asserts herself (as much as she can given the gender constraints of the time), becoming “a tough little jewel,” overcoming her captor, and making Bonin her new home. The life of a contemptible seaman finally catches up to Mazarro, leaving Maria alone on Bonin in no position practically or culturally to return to Guam. We see Maria take control of her fate, eventually marrying the last remaining original colonist of the island, American Nathaniel Savory. The two build a life together that is a stark opposite to what Maria had with Mazarro. As the couple grow their family, we see how the island itself is cultivated. In fact, at one point Maria and Nathaniel are visited by Commodore Matthew Perry as a side-note on his quest to open the Far East to the United States. It is tiny moments like this that show readers how even small, seemingly inconsequential or ultra-personal stories can cross paths with historic events. It is a great strength of historical fiction to take these moments and make them intimate and real for contemporary readers.
What is perhaps most engaging about Hersom’s narrative is how Maria is able to ground herself thanks to the community of women who immediately come to her aid and buttress her. This kind of unity is inspiring and the catalyst for what would become the lineage leading to Hersom herself. Captive Bride is a novella articulating a family’s origin and roots, but it is also a novella giving readers a glimpse into a corner of the world rarely seen.
|Page Count||176 pages|
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