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Book review: 'Storykeeper' by Daniel A. Smith

Posted: July 29, 2013 - 6:37pm

Author Daniel A. Smith has written a book that is a must read for people who are entirely indifferent to human history and possibly also for those readers who aren’t.

His historical novel “Storykeeper” explores an almost forgotten but formative period of Arkansas and American history in the drought-ridden summer of 1541. Hernando De Soto and an army of three hundred conquistadors crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas carrying disease, war and social, political and religious unrest, resulting in the decimation of the numerous ancient nations that once populated the local region.

The book’s images, enhanced by objective historical writing are portals into the distant past, sometimes humorous, often heartbreaking, but always illuminating.

On the strength of his literary outpouring, Smith received the 2013 Best Indie Book Award in the mainstream category for his novel. The award is given annually to five authors of independently published books in the nation. The Best Indie Book Award is about raising the bar on Indie authors to become as critically acclaimed as their traditionally published peers.

Smith’s book is immense and incredibly detailed, offering a powerful depiction of world history.

During a recent interview, Smith said, “I had no idea of the complexities and sophistication of the different cultures that thrived on land I routinely traveled until I began reading the three surviving journals from the De Soto expedition. My novel is an attempt to shed some light on those last nations and their forgotten people.”

Smith grew up in Arkansas and was schooled at Hendrix College. He worked for his father for years, servicing refrigeration units and sound systems around the state. What began as an observation grew into a driving curiosity in researching historical documents in the state’s vast archeological findings.

The untold stories and lost history all round him inspired his debut novel “Storykeeper,” an epic adventure based on historic documents from the 1539-1542 expedition of De Soto. However, the novel is told from the perspective of the native people of the Mississippi/Arkansas River Valley who lived and survived America’s deadliest invasions.

“Storykeeper” is about the first encounter between two completely different cultures and the tragic results that followed. It unfolds through fireside stories told to and by three young protagonists, each a generation apart.

Below the surface, Smith contends, the novel is really about story telling. “I think it is one of humanity’s most basic and defining characteristics, the unique ability and driving desire to tell stories — all stories from the ancient cave paintings to the most structured novel contribute to the enduring nature of mankind and are crucial for the survival of any culture.”

The story of De Soto is largely one of disappointment, a frantic search for wealth that was never found in his travels in America’s south and southwest. It was inevitable that his health would suffer and his spirit broken, and on May 21 in 1542 he died and was buried in the Mississippi River,

But even De Soto’s failure was not without reward — fame as one of the conquistadors of North America and the discoverer of its greatest river, the Mississippi.

“Storykeeper” is the first of three historical novels by Smith, set in Arkansas’ past, 450 years ago.

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