The Forest Lover is based on the life of Emily Carr, a painter at the turn of the twentieth century (at the same time as Georgia O’Keeffe and Frieda Kahlo) . She was raised with the expectation that she would enter polite White Vancouver society and live alongside, but separate from, Native Americans who lived nearby.
Carr fights hard for her independence at a time when women have few options, but she is confident and knows her own mind. She supports herself by teaching art. All her passion is spent painting. To further her training she goes to France where her art is celebrated. When she returns home, The art community shuns her. Carr continues to believe in herself (although not without periods of doubt); she trusts her work enough to continue to paint. Her goal is to reveal a connection between the essence of the land and the history of the tribal peoples.
Carr races against time. Ancient villages are rapidly disappearing. Totems and other artifacts are being sold off, stolen or simply left to deteriorate. At great risk, she travels into the wilderness with amazing confidence. The conditions are often rugged, but she forges ahead. Not only is she willing to go to remote forests and villages, but she travels unescorted. She fights swarms of insects, survives the elements, and journeys forward always uncertain of the welcome she will receive along the way. Her respect for the tribal people and her commitment to paint history before it becomes lost help her to garner trust.
This novel is rich with beauty, history, art and the resiliency of the human spirit. Carr lives a full life including complex family relationships, cultural differences, friendships, romance, travel, adventure, economic hardship, and success. I am very glad Susan Vreeland introduced me to Emily Carr.