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Reviewed by Tammy Ruggles for Readers' Favorite
Paul Buchheit's 1871: Rivers on Fire is an emotionally involving account of true fires--physical and emotional. Set against the backdrop of the historic fires of Chicago and Peshtigo, a married couple is caught up in the flames, and the social issues that come before and after the events. One fire was in Chicago, the other in Wisconsin--both devastating and history-making. Buchheit intermingles fact with fiction, love with rage, fire with coldness. Beyond the fires and the romance, you will read about themes that may challenge or confirm your ideas on status, minority relations, and the environment. Robert and Liz are an interesting couple. They meet in London during their studies of neurolinguistics, then go to the United States for a project, only to eventually come face to face with the fires. The two encounter historic figures of the era, like John Muir, so you really get a sense of what life was like at that time, prior to and following the disasters.
Buchheit has cleverly combined history with a love story, and the results are not only entertaining but informative. The images are an added bonus. History buffs will love this novel, as will readers who aren't so much into the history of the fires, but the human stories associated with them. These fire touched humanity around them in ways you may have never thought of. This author has conscientiously crafted characters that you will care about, and a compelling plot that is grounded in fact. The descriptions are visceral, the situations heartbreaking at times. The themes of this book go beyond research; they reach into your heart and mind, making you think about the value we place on life, property, and ideals we hold dear. For a powerful trip back in time to two fiery events and their place in history, be sure to pick up 1871: Rivers on Fire by Paul Buchheit.