Longing to Be Free: The Bear, the Eagle, and the Crown
by Judith Guskin (Thailand 1961-64)
Wonder Spirit Press
$19.36 (paperback), $11.99 (kindle)
Reviewed by Darcy Meijer (Gabon 1982-84)
Longing to Be Free is a fine piece of historical fiction, and it could well be used in middle and high school history classes. The novel deals with relations between settlers and Native Americans in New England between 1630 and 1677, and the politics in England which drove them. It is a complicated and sad story, and Guskin builds tension skillfully till the final bloody war.
The novel focuses on Comfort Bradford, fictional daughter of Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford, who fled England to the Netherlands to escape religious persecution, then on to establish the Colony in Massachusetts. Comfort grows up close friends with the local Wampanoags, led by Chief Massasoit, and she learns the Algonquian language and customs. Through her father, she also becomes acquainted with political and religious leaders and merchants in neighboring Massachusetts Bay Colony. Guskin cleverly details the tensions that divide the Puritans in the Mass Bay Colony from the religiously liberal settlers in Plymouth and Rhode Island; the land-use disputes between Native Americans and the growing number of settlers; the strife among the various native tribes; and the ethics of the slave owners and those who ply the Caribbean trade.
Dr. Guskin, called the “Mother of the Peace Corps” because of her work to establish the Peace Corps with Sergeant Shriver, is described as “passionate about education and the use of history to understand the values and behaviors that promote peace or war.” Indeed, the conflicts depicted in Longing to Be Free are rooted in racial arrogance, greed, and the misuse of religion to condone the oppression of the Native groups.
I was totally engrossed in Guskin’s plot, maybe especially so since I grew up in central Massachusetts and studied the literature and history of the region. Longing paints an accurate chronology of events – focusing on one location per chapter – and enlivens them with characters who live the situation, with human weakness and our amoeba-like desire to grow and engulf. Like Guskin, my sympathies lay wholeheartedly with the Wampanoags, and I dreaded the inevitable culmination of the story – King Philip’s War.
Longing to Be Free would be an excellent addition to any U.S. public school library, bringing to life as it does a pivotal epoch in U.S. history. We can all benefit from this reminder of how far our nation has come, and how far it has yet to go.
Reviewer Darcy Meijer served as a Peace Corps TEFL in Gabon from 1982-84. She will be moving with her family to Congo-Brazzaville next fall to train teachers for the Ministry of Education.