South of an Unnamed Creek


Author: Anne Cameron

Published: 1989

Genre: Fiction

About South of an Unnamed Creek: Six women make their way to Dawson at the height of the Klondike gold rush.

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Review of South of an Unnamed Creek

Dawson had been thrown together in a marsh of mud, the streets beaten in, around, through, and among the stumps left when the trees were cut. There were log-butts and rounds set in mud and stacked to form walls which, roofed with whatever came to hand, were called houses. There were log houses, pole houses, and board houses. Canvas walls, canvas roofs, anything that would stop or even slow down the wind and give some semblance of privacy, had been used to make shacks, shanties, cabins, hoochies, stores, hotels, and saloons. The hillsides were covered with tents, the streets were a press of anxious and tense men. Dogs, mules, horses, and oxen wandered the banks looking for scraps, unguarded food, forage, grass, green shoots, and if the animals had once belonged to someone, nobody claimed them now.

...from page 140

There were six main characters in this book: Ceileigh, a Scottish musician, who was raped one night on her way home from playing in a bar; Aggie, whose drunken parents could barely take care of themselves, let alone her; Su Gin, a Chinese farmer who was sold into prostitution; Lily, who grew up in a brothel until she was taken away by rich relatives; Mary, who survived life in a coal mining town by becoming a fishmonger; Cora, whose father sold her to a much older, richer, and crueler man.

The first half of the book introduced each character in detail — where she came from, why she left — and the second half brought the women together. Once they were all in Dawson, they set up a hotel/saloon, dabbled in gold mining, and fell in love. Mostly with each other.

The characters were diverse, interesting, and strong, and each one could have been the star of her own book. I think Cameron did them a disservice by putting them all together in one story. Also, there were so many of them that, by the time they started to come together, I had trouble remembering which character went with which backstory. I found myself flipping to the first half of the book often to sort them out.

The descriptions of Dawson and area gave a reasonably good feel for how miserable life was during the gold rush. Likewise, the descriptions of each woman's journey made it clear how difficult travel was in the late 1890s, particularly for poor people. The last three chapters felt rushed but I enjoyed the book and I'd like to read more by Cameron.

Reviewed by Lynn Bornath on 18 March 2008.

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Added 18 March 2008.
Updated 07 September 2013.