Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Beyond the Sand Creek Bridge: A Review

Scott Wyatt's Beyond the Sand Creek Bridge

Review by Marianne Love

for Bonner County Daily Bee

When I told my husband Bill about the basic premise for Scott Wyatt’s new fictional release Beyond the Sand Creek Bridge, he responded, “Sounds like a good winter read.”

At the time, I had been reading Wyatt’s 434-page paperback novel, off and on for three days and had just 80-plus pages to go.

“Yes, it would be a good winter read,” I thought, after finishing the artfully written novel a day later.  “I’d really like to read it again.”

Some day I’d like to take time to truly absorb the treasures within Wyatt’s first attempt at fiction.  The book is that good with its superb use of the English language and its thoughtful approach to revealing inner conflicts gnawing away at each of the main characters as they react to troubling situations around them. 

The novel, set in China, Boston, Spokane, Sandpoint and Hope, offers wonderful insights into Chinese beliefs and culture.  In the 1880s, hundreds of Chinese laborers cleared the line for the Northern Pacific Railroad, which passed through North Idaho along the shores of Lake Pend Oreille.

These workers’ contact with the early residents of rough-and-tumble Sandpoint brings forth a plausible story, easily associated with the 600,000-plus  artifacts---many of them Chinese---unearthed along Sand Creek prior to construction of the recently opened Sand Creek Byway.  

The story line also reflects a long-held belief of Wyatt’s, which he has put into action through his promotion of a “companion flag.” The flag symbolizes that humans throughout this world, regardless of cultural differences, can find a unifying bond through their commonalities.

In 1999, Wyatt introduced the concept of a “companion flag” to be flown below and on the same pole as the flag of a nation, state, school, etc. Its purpose:  to celebrate similarities shared by the human race.  Wyatt’s flags fly in dozens of countries throughout the world, including Sandpoint’s Washington Elementary School.   

A childhood “adventure” when his friend Mike Dreisbach showed him some Chinese graves in Hope hatched the idea for Wyatt’s novel. 

I remember being captivated by the sight of Chinese writing on the grave markers,” Wyatt, now 61, says. “. . . after that either Mike’s grandparents, Ella and Harry Dreisbach, or his aunt, Louise Colwell,  . . .  told us about the Chinese who came to Hope ‘years ago’ to build the railroad. The world suddenly got much bigger and much more interesting for me.”

Wyatt, now living in Sammamish, Wash., graduated from Sandpoint High School in 1969 and earned degrees from Stanford University and the University of Washington Law School.  He has practiced law in the Seattle area, specializing in civil litigation.

The narrative for his novel reflects that legal expertise through one of the characters Jason McQuade, a young Harvard-trained lawyer from Boston who comes to Sandpoint to start his career.

Along with McQuade, the book centers around Wong Hok-Ling and beautiful Mei-Yin, both from the Middle Kingdom in China.  Breaking from established traditions of arranged marriages, the two promise their love for each other prior to Hok-Ling’s trip to America where he would be employed by the House of Huang for three years as a railroad laborer.

Toward the end of Hok-Ling’s work commitment, Mei-Yin, hoping for a better life than her Chinese culture dictates for women, embarks on a long journey from her homeland to find Hok-Ling.

The night she arrives in Sandpoint, the local sheriff, who has already had a run-in with Hok-Ling, is murdered. 

Events and situations point to Hok-Ling as the murderer.  McQuade enters the picture, somewhat by default, taking over the defense of Hok-Ling.  The subsequent murder trial will be his first.

In telling this story, Wyatt provides readers with vignettes of community members acting out their utter disdain and hatred---sometimes very disturbingly---toward the hundreds of Chinese workers who have passed through Sandpoint to board steamboats bound for Hope, the site of their work camp.

Jason McQuade also experiences the mood of intolerance among the locals once he pursues Hok-Ling’s case.  Adding to that, he is conflicted with an almost immediate physical obsession for Mei-Yin’s beauty.

Seemingly insurmountable challenges and surprises unfold in this gripping, fast-moving, sometimes graphic story.

Local readers will also recognize place names, family names and geographical locations mentioned the book.

After all, Wyatt’s Sandpoint roots run deep with store owners (grandmother Martha Wyatt owned Marjeans), a Presbyterian pastor, doctors (Page Hospital and Dr. Ethel Page Westwood) and his late father, former city engineer Bill Wyatt, all active community members throughout the Twentieth Century.

As Scott Wyatt resolves the issues, he reminds us of a universal truth:  although we do have the freedom to hate, we are also endowed with equal liberty to recognize and appreciate common emotions and principles that unite all cultures throughout the world. 

Readers of Beyond the Sand Creek Bridge will surely come away satisfied with a compelling story and some food for thought. In addition, I’m guessing that Wyatt may provide local history buffs with the curiosity to take a closer look at a brief but formative segment of this area’s colorful history associated with the Chinese laborers.

“In a sense, Beyond the Sand Creek Bridge is a love-letter to the Sandpoint area, and the area around Hope, which I’ve always thought was some of the most beautiful country in the world. I feel as though it is a part of me,” Wyatt says.  “I was a dreamer as a child and adolescent. The land itself and the sky above it seemed to hold my dreams . . . seemed to say to me anything was possible.”

Beyond the Sand Creek Bridge ($14.95 paperback) can be purchased at Vanderford’s Books and Office Products and The Corner Bookstore in Sandpoint, and at Bonners Books in Bonners Ferry.  It is also available on Kindle ($2.99) at www.amazon.com, where more than 40 other reviews appear.  


jimholte@hotmail.com said...

Great review Mrs. Love! This one has definitely been on my list since I first heard of it. I too was always fascinated by the barrier wall at Hope that purportedly held up the Chinese grave site. I think your insight has moved this book up the pile a few notches! Keep Pickin' -JimI

Marianne Love said...

Thanks, Jim. I'm pickin' and wishin' I could be ginnin' more, but persistence may win out eventually.

Cindy Bond said...

I read your review of this book in The Daily Bee. The book intrigued me as the setting was local and the fact the my husband and I own Cedar Street Bridge, built on the bridge over Sandcreek in the mid 1980's. we would love to host an event for Mr. Wyatt at the bridge for locals to meet him, book signing, and regional publicity. Thank you for introdcing the book to me. I am just starting it and find it well-written with a good story and very enjoyable. Cindy Bond