It is December of 1792. Elizabeth Middleton leaves her comfortable English estate to join her family in a remote New York mountain village. It is a place unlike any she has ever experienced. And she meets a man unlike any she has ever encountered—a white man dressed like a Native American: Nathaniel Bonner, known to the Mohawk people as Between-Two-Lives. Determined to provide schooling for all the children of the village, Elizabeth soon finds herself locked in conflict with the local slave owners as well as with her own family. Interweaving the fate of the Mohawk Nation with the destiny of two lovers, Sara Donati’s compelling novel creates a complex, profound, passionate portait of an emerging America.
Praise for Into the Wilderness
“My favorite kind of book is the sort you live in, rather than read. Into the Wilderness is one of those rare stories that let you breathe the air of another time, and leave your footprints on the snow of a wild, strange place. I can think of no better adventure than to explore the wilderness in the company of such engaging and independent lovers as Elizabeth and her Nathaniel.”—Diana Gabaldon
“Each time you open a book you hope to discover a story that will make your spirit of adventure and romance sing. This book delivers on that promise.”—Amanda Quick
“A beautiful tale of both romance and survival…Here is the beauty as well as the savagery of the wilderness and, at the core of it all, the compelling story of the love of a man and a woman, both for the untamed land and for one another.”—Allan W. Eckert
“Lushly written . . . Exemplary historical fiction.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Epic in scope, emotionally intense.”—BookPage
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Read an Excerpt
"I have a question for you."
"Yes, Mr. Bonner?" She did not raise her head.
"Will you please say my name?" he said with an intensity which caused gooseflesh to rise on her arms.
She hesitated. "Nathaniel."
"Look at me and say my name."
Elizabeth looked up slowly.
Nathaniel saw in her face an overwhelming confusion. He saw that she had never stood like this with a man, that she had never imagined doing so, and that she was flustered and even a bit frightened, but not unhappy to be here with him.
"What did you want to ask me?"
"How old are you?"
Elizabeth blinked. "Twenty-nine."
"You've never been kissed, have you?" The white cloud of his breath reached out to touch her face. His hands jerked at his sides but he kept them where they were. Now she would tell him to mind his own business, and he could put this woman out of his head.
"Why?" said Elizabeth, raising her eyes to his with a critical but composed look. "Do you intend to kiss me?"
Nathaniel pulled up abruptly and laughed. "The thought crossed my mind."
Her eyes narrowed.
"Why do you want to kiss me?"
"Well," Nathaniel said, inclining his head. "You seem set on going back to England, and the Mahicans say that you should never return from a journey the same person."
"How very thoughtful of you," she said dryly. "How benevolent. But please, do not discommode yourself, on my account." She began to turn away, but Nathaniel caught her by the upper arm.
"Now I, for one, hope you don't rush off," he said. "But I want to kiss you, either way."
"Do you?" she said tersely. "Perhaps I don't want to kiss you."
Elizabeth was afraid to look at Nathaniel directly, for how could he not see the doubt on her face, and the curiosity? And what would that mean, to let him know what she really thought, how confusing this all was to her? To tell a man what she was truly thinking--this was a thought more frightening than any kiss could be.
"I didn't mean to get you mad," Nathaniel said softly.
"What did you mean to do, then? Have some fun at my expense, but not so much that I would actually notice that you were making a fool of me?"
"No," he said, and Elizabeth was relieved to see all trace of teasing leave his face. "I'd like to see the man who could make a fool of you. I meant to kiss you, because I wanted to. But if you don't like the idea--"
She pulled away from him, her face blazing white. "I never said that. You don't know what I want." Then, finally, she blushed, all her frustration and anger pouring out in pools of color which stained her cheeks bluish-gray in the faint light of the winter moon.
"So," Nathaniel said, a hint of his smile returning. "You do want to kiss me."
"I want you to stop talking the matter to death," Elizabeth said irritably. "If you hadn't noticed, you are embarrassing me. Perhaps you don't know much about England--I don't know why you should, after all--but let me tell you that there's a reason I am twenty-nine years of age and unkissed, and that is, very simply, that well-bred ladies of good family don't let men kiss them. Even if they want to be kissed, and women do want to be kissed on occasion, you realize, although we aren't supposed to admit that. To be perfectly honest with you"--she drew a shaky breath--"I can't claim that anyone has ever shown an interest in me at home--at least, not enough interest that this particular issue ever raised its head. Now." She looked up at him with her mouth firmly set. Her voice had lowered to a hoarse whisper, but still she looked about the little glen nervously, as if someone might overhear this strange and unseemly conversation. "You'll forgive me if I question why you would be thinking of kissing me."
"It's a wonder," Nathaniel said. "How purely stupid Englishmen can be. Scairt off from a pretty face--don't you scowl that way, maybe nobody ever thought to tell you before, but you are pretty--because there's a sharp mind and a quick tongue to go along with it. Well, I'm made of tougher stuff."
"Why--" Elizabeth began, sputtering.
"Christ, Boots, will you stop talking," said Nathaniel, lowering his mouth to hers; she stepped neatly away.
"I think not," she said. "Not tonight."
Nathaniel laughed out loud. "Tomorrow night? The night after?"
"Oh, no," Elizabeth said, trying halfheartedly to turn away. "I cannot--pardon me, I must get back."
"Back to England?" he asked, one hand moving down until he clasped a mittened hand. "Or just back to your father?"
Nathaniel saw Elizabeth jerk in surprise. She looked up at him sharply, her eyes sparkling. At first he thought she was angry again, then he saw that it was more complicated than that: she was furious, but not at him. Not at this. This almost-kiss, the idea of it, had released something in her.
"It isn't right that my father misrepresented things to me, that he brought me here under false pretenses, that he made plans for me that I want no part of."
"You don't want Richard Todd," Nathaniel prompted.
"No," Elizabeth said fiercely, and her eyes traveled down to focus on his mouth. "I don't want Richard Todd. I want my school."
"I will build you a school."
"I want to know why you're so angry at my father, what he's done to you."
"I'll tell you that if you really want to know," he said. "But someplace warmer."
"I don't want to get married."
He raised an eyebrow. "Then I won't marry you."
Her eyes kept darting over his face, between his mouth and his eyes, and back to his mouth, the curve of his lip. He saw this, and he knew she was thinking about kissing him. Nathaniel knew that this was a conflict for her, one not easily reconciled: she did not want marriage, and in her world--in this world--there could not be one without the other. This struggle was clear on her face, and as he expected, training and propriety won out: she was not quite bold enough to ask for the kisses she wanted. This disappointed him but he was also relieved. He didn't know how long he could keep his own wants firmly in hand. And this was not a woman who could be rushed.
"I want . . . I want . . ." She paused and looked down.
"Do you always get everything you want?" Nathaniel asked.
"No," she said. "But I intend to start."
Elizabeth let Nathaniel turn her back toward the house. Her hands and feet were icy, her cheeks chafed red with the cold, but she was strangely elated, her head rushing with possibilities. She felt that she could face her father now and that she must, she would, have her way. She had no intention of mentioning Nathaniel to him, of what had passed between them, although she recognized, she knew, that this was not over. She knew that it had just begun, and that it would take her places she could not yet imagine. It frightened her, how far she had come in just a few days, but it was also deeply exciting.
A strange thought came to Elizabeth: if her father would not give her what she wanted, Nathaniel might help her take it. He was a man such as she had never known before, and she wondered if he could be a part of her life and not an obstruction in it. She cast a wondering and speculative sideways glance at him, and shivered.
Reading Group Guide
Capturing the imagination of readers worldwide, the novels of Sara Donati bring to life compelling chapters in history, woven with tales of courage and passionate devotion. Into the Wilderness takes us to late eighteenth-century America, where Elizabeth Middleton arrives from England to fulfill her dream of creating a schoolhouse, serving all the children of a remote New York mountain village, regardless of sex or skin color. But her father has other plans for her. He has a scheme to give Elizabeth substantial property—if she agrees to marry Richard Todd, a man to whom he owes substantial debts. Elizabeth has always treasured her independence, valuing her freedom and integrity above all else. The only man who seems to speak the truth to her is Nathaniel Bonner, a fiery outsider known to the Mohawk people as Between-Two-Lives. Soon Elizabeth realizes that Nathaniel is the only match for her. A saga of adventurous new beginnings, Into the Wilderness is a breathtaking journey through the heart and soul of one couple’s epic fate—and the destiny of a young nation.
The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Sara Donati’s Into the Wilderness. We hope they will enrich your experience of this mesmerizing novel.
1. What gives Elizabeth the courage to fight for the vindication of women? How does her vision of the New World compare to that of most early American immigrants?
2. How is Nathaniel affected by his past? When he recalls his previous wife’s desire to be white and his desire to be red, what cultural ideals is he describing?
3. Discuss the Native American notion of land as a spiritual homeland, not a commodity that can be bought and sold with money. How does this compare to the way Judge Middleton and Richard think of land? Does Judge Middleton think of Elizabeth as property too, or is he simply looking out for her best interests in a time when single women faced significant challenges?
4. How did the colonists featured in Into the Wilderness justify their personal quest for freedom while advocating slavery? How did Elizabeth’s father reconcile his upbringing with the beliefs of his fellow citizens?
5. Why was Elizabeth hesitant to begin a relationship? Would you have been tempted to marry Richard? How would you have fared in a marriage that deprived you of property rights?
6. What common ground do Richard and Nathaniel share? What accounts for their very different approaches to life, despite their similar history?
7. What does Julian’s relationship with Kitty say about him? What accounts for their attraction to each other? How does Kitty’s pregnancy change their lives, and the lives of those around them?
8. How is Hannah affected by having Elizabeth in her life? What does Elizabeth teach her about feeling valued?
9. How is Elizabeth’s life shaped by the death of her mother? How does the memory of her mother affect her idea of womanhood? Does Julian react differently to that aspect of their family history?
10. Elizabeth and Nathaniel are assisted by many enlightened friends, such as the Schuylers. Why do some members of their community accept unconventional people, while others reject them? Even today, in the modern world, what are the roots of these two mindsets?
11. Discuss Elizabeth’s relationship with Julian. Are their differences due to nature, or the way they were raised (nurture)? What does it take for Julian to redeem himself in the end? Or does he?
12. What power and limitations do Curiosity and Galileo possess as freed slaves? How do they influence the Middleton family? For whom is the settlement of Paradise a paradise?
13. How does the arrival of Aunt Merriweather change the way Elizabeth’s family interacts? What is Aunt Merriweather able to see in her niece that others overlook?
14. What is the impact of the additional revelations about Nathaniel’s identity? Which of the legacies in his ancestry matters the most?
15. What did you discover about this chapter in American history? How are the quotations from Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft relevant today?
16. What do you predict for Elizabeth and Nathaniel’s future in Dawn on a Distant Shore? United in marriage, what are their greatest strengths and vulnerabilities?