Not every pioneer arrived in Salt Lake City via wagon train or handcart in the early 1850s. Some traveled by ship and some traveled a combination of ship and overland routes. Jerry Borrowman’s characters in Steamship to Zion traveled on one of the finest Cunard Line ships from England to NewYork. Henry Chandler, a clerk for the shipping line, and his family accept from the company a well-earned vacation trip to America. Though they pretend to be vacationing, their plans don’t include a return trip. Recent converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, their intent is to board another ship sailing around the tip of South America to reach California and from there travel east to Utah. Their plans are thwarted when first they rescue a haughty young woman, Gloria Palmerston, before the ship leaves port. The young lady is running away from an arranged marriage and is being pursued by a relentless detective and his hired thugs. The second disaster is a determined Cunard lines clerk who discovers they are Mormons and that Henry has no intention of returning to England. The clerk cancels their hotel reservation, and being forced to pay for their own accommodations leaves them without enough money to pay their fare on the second ship.
Henry’s oldest son, Marc, isn’t as committed to the new religion as the other members of his family, but he is firmly committed to his family. He’s also annoyed by the spoiled young lady his family has agreed to chaperone and is anxious to see her on her way to Boston once their ship arrives in New York. Unfortunately the ship is delayed by a major storm. Marc is assigned to take her to the train station, but unfortunately the cabbie they hire delivers them to the detective who beat them to New York.
One disaster after another befalls the family as they struggle to earn passage on a boat that takes them to Panama, then they must cross the narrow strip of land to the Pacific, then board another boat to take them up the coast to San Francisco. Marc finds his feelings toward Gloria, who seems to have become a semi-permanent part of the family, mixed and confused. Their trials and adventures bring them in contact with Sam Brennan and Porter Rockwell and they discover neither man is quite what they expected. Marc also discovers for himself the truth behind his father’s belief that some things are worth whatever price must be paid.
Borrowman’s style is quite different in this book from his previous books. There’s less narration and the dialog feels more natural. Even though the book is historical, there’s a greater sense of immediacy to the story. The characters have distinctive voices and both Marc and Gloria noticeably grow and mature through the nearly two years in which the story takes place. The background is rich in detail without overwhelming the plot as the story plays out against a stormy Atlantic crossing, mid nineteenth century New York, the reality of the horrible demands on the crew of an early steamer, the Panama crossing filled with political intrigue, lawlessness, back-breaking work, and malaria, followed by the mammoth shanty town conditions found in San Francisco.
The plot is, in some respects, familiar to LDS readers as a family is forced to make terrible choices and suffer incredible hardships, suffer death and disaster, in order to join the Saints in Utah. Their faith pushes them on when continuing seems impossible. Borrowman maintains high action throughout this story and the background for the story is fresh, making Steamship to Zion an exciting adventure with a touch of romance.
Jerry Borrowman is a well-known author with ten other books to his credit, some of which were co-authored such as, A Distant Prayer with Joseph Banks and Three Against Hitler with Rudi Wobbe. He was born and raised in Southeastern Idaho and currently lives with his wife in Sandy, Utah. He is a National Award Winner of the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge for his contribution to promoting the cause of freedom through his writing.
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STEAMSHIP TO ZION by Jerry Borrowman, published by Covenant Communications, softcover, 246 pages, $16.99, also available on Kindle.