Two worlds collide in new Carhart novel

Tue Oct 13, 2009 10:53am EDT
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By Ed Stoddard

DALLAS (Reuters Life!) - Writer Thad Carhart found the real-life story of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau so riveting and improbable that he wrote a novel about it.

"Across the Endless River," is set in the vastly different worlds Charbonneau inhabited -- the rough and ready U.S. frontier of the early 19th century and an aristocratic Europe recovering from Napoleon's wars.

Charbonneau was born in 1805 on the famous "Lewis and Clarke expedition" of the American west. His native American mother, Sacagawea, and his French Canadian father were translators on the expedition.

His mother carried him on her back across America with the explorers. He grew up with one foot in the "white man's" world in St. Louis and the other with the native tribes.

As a young man he met a German aristocrat and enthusiast of natural history who asked Charbonneau to accompany him to Europe to help him sort out his collection of wild animal specimens and native artifacts.

Little is known about Charbonneau's five years in Europe -- a gap in the historical record that provided Carhart with an opportunity to fashion this fictional account. He imagines how Europe would have looked through the eyes of a young man from the American wilderness.

Carhart, a dual citizen of Ireland and the United States, lives in Paris and is the also author of "The Piano Shop on the Left Bank." He spoke to Reuters about his new book.

Q: This novel is based on real historical characters. Would you describe it as a work of "faction"?   Continued...

<p>Writer Thad Carhart is seen in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Simo Neri/Handout</p>