In Riding in the Shadows of the Saints: A Woman’s Story of Motorcycling the Mormon Trail, (2005, Three Rivers Publishing, 302 pages, ISBN #10:0-307-33857-6), Jana Richman describes her motorcycle journey along the Mormon trail. What prompted me to read this book was the distinct possibility that we may have a Mormon president in November. I knew a little about the Mormon faith and had used the example of the massacre at Nauvoo, Illinois, as an example in a class I taught to college freshmen about tolerance, but I hoped this book would enrich my understanding of both. I was not disappointed.
Ms. Richman follows the journey that seven of her great-great grandmothers took in the 19th century from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City. One part of her book is recounting their determination and faith in spite of forbidding circumstances. The stories of her female ancestors along the trail are often heart-stopping in the intensity of their suffering and the depth of their faith. Reading about how each woman came to be part of the Mormon migration west and the faith that sustained them was informative and inspiring.
A parallel story is Ms. Richman’s own struggle with the paternal Mormon hierarchy and its leaders. The questions she raised are in the context of Mormonism, but they could also be asked of many of the major religions of today. I found Ms. Richman’s inquiry personally relevant and meaningful, even though I am not a Mormon. Her writing caused me to think and reflect on my own questions of religion and faith.
A third part of the book is traveling 1300 miles solo on a motor cycle. I have never ridden a motorcycle but enjoyed the vicarious ride, complements of Ms. Richman. Although her challenges were certainly not anywhere as life threatening of those of her great-great grandmothers who walked from Illinois to Utah, she does find herself at times in situations that can only happen if you are on a motorcycle.
This book met my expectations and then some. My first goal was to learn more about Mormonism. There was enough Mormon history to increase my knowledge and understanding of the background of a potential U.S. president. However, what I most gained from this book was an appreciation for the Mormon women who were committed to their faith and survived a journey few of us would consider today. A bonus was the opportunity to reflect on my own faith in and religion from a new vantage point.
If any of these things are of interest to you, I would highly recommend your reading Riding In the Shadow of the Saints.
Diane Burke recently retired from a 30 year career in education and moved to Hampton Roads from upstate New York. One of her life long passions has been reading books about real women. A retirement goal was to find a way to share this passion with others. She created a website www.booksaboutrealwomen.com in which she has organized and reviewed over 100 books about women. She lives in Chesapeake with her husband and is the mother of three and the grandmother of eight.