Nineteen-year-old Cowney Sequoyah yearns to escape his hometown of Cherokee, North Carolina, in the heart of the Smoky Mountains. When a summer job at Asheville's luxurious Grove Park Inn and Resort brings him one step closer to escaping the hills that both cradle and suffocate him, he sees it as an opportunity. The experience introduces him to the beautiful and enigmatic Essie Stamper—a young Cherokee woman who is also working at the inn and dreaming of a better life.
With World War II raging in Europe, the resort is the temporary home of Axis diplomats and their families, who are being held as prisoners of war. A secret room becomes a place where Cowney and Essie can escape the white world of the inn and imagine their futures free of the shadows of their families' pasts. Outside of this refuge, however, racism and prejudice are never far behind, and when the daughter of one of the residents goes missing, Cowney finds himself accused of abduction and murder.
Even As We Breathe invokes the elements of bone, blood, and flesh as Cowney navigates difficult social, cultural, and ethnic divides. Betrayed by the friends he trusted, he begins to unearth deeper mysteries as he works to prove his innocence and clear his name. This richly written debut novel explores the immutable nature of the human spirit and the idea that physical existence, with all its strife and injustice, will not be humanity's lasting legacy.
Prologue Bones Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Stains Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-One Chapter Twenty-Two Chapter Twenty-Three Chapter Twenty-Four Acknowledgements
Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle, an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), holds degrees from Yale University and the College of William and Mary. Her work Going to Water won the Morning Star Award for Creative Writing from the Native American Literature Symposium and was a finalist for the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. She is coeditor of the Journal of Cherokee Studies and serves on the board of trustees for the North Carolina Writers' Network. She resides in Qualla, North Carolina.
Clapsaddle's lush debut thrusts 19-year-old Cowney Sequoyah into WWII intrigue... The clear, crisp prose hums consistently as the intricate story easily moves along and new details about Cowney's family's past emerge. Both an astonishing addition to WWII and Native American literature, this novel sings on every level.
~Publishers Weekly (starred)
Even As We Breathe is a remarkable and important debut novel that announces a major new voice in southern literature, and one that we have waited far too long to hear. Clapsaddle offers us characters we will never forget, a palpable sense of place, and an intricate plot, but most of all she allows us to luxuriate in her rich language, which is evident from the first sentence to the last. It was not only a pleasure to read this book, it was also an honor. Don't miss it.
~Silas House, author of Southernmost
Even As We Breathe is a fresh, welcome, and much needed addition to the fiction of the Appalachian South and its neglected people and places. Clapsaddle creates characters with sensitivity, subtlety, humor, and warmth. A splendid debut by a writer well worth following.
~Charles Frazier, New York Times bestselling author of Varina and Cold Mountain
A period piece that illuminates and echoes our current time. A powerful story told by voices that ring true as scripture. Even As We Breathe is an awakening. This is a masterful debut from the writer we need right now.
~David Joy, author of When These Mountains Burn
Debut writer Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle lifts the curtain to show us a South we don't know, revealed through the struggles of Cowney Sequoyah, a young man growing up within the Cherokee Nation of far Western North Carolina, and yet another surprise setting when he takes a job at Asheville's fabled Grove Park Inn while it is being used by the US military as a place of internment for Axis prisoners of war during World War II. Even As We Breathe is a wonderful novel, complicated as life itself—thrilling, mysterious, and finally, a revelation!
~Lee Smith, New York Times bestselling author of Blue Marlin
[A] groundbreaking first novel from Cherokee writer Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle...The distinct features of Cowney's Qualla Boundary home, where a freed circus capuchin explores the treelines, a mystical waterfall cave waits in the mist, and fires and outsiders are a constant annoyance, glitter among the book's mysteries and surprises.... Avoided family truths become a source of freedom in [this] fascinating historical novel.
Clapsaddle's words have an easy grace, but they work hard, often pulling double-duty. Even As We Breathe is shot through with deluxe use of image. There is a sweetnessin Annette's work that is neither finicky nor too sweet—it is an even sweetness, rich and sustaining, born of loving ground.
~Robert Gipe Blog
Even as We Breathe slowly builds from a seemingly simple tale of first love into a meditation on the deepest mysteries and contradictions of human existence. The novel's final paragraph is a particular marvel, rippling back through the book and carrying the reader with it into the sublime. Annette Clapsaddle is an exceptional writer, and an important voice in Appalachia's literature.
This novel's stories and its people will echo throughout the memories of many of its readers for a long time.
~Mary Whipple Reviews
Clapsaddle's Even As We Breathe is the story of a young Cherokee man setting out in the world and discovering that in returning home, he might finally realize his full potential. And behind that story is the story of a debut author who did much the same.
A very personal story about family, love and growing up into the world of western North Carolina during World War II.... This novel was impossible for me to put down and is one of my favorite books I have read this year.
~David Wilk, WritersCast
This is a novel of intimacy and poignancy but also an exploration of how war and racism affect people's daily lives. As Cowney puts it, 'Empathy is fossilized in our bones.'
~Elizabeth Blair, NPR
This novel is profound, poetic, prophetic, pleasurable, passionate, and provoking of thought.
~Appalachian Mountain Books
A beautifully written novel about life in North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains around Cherokee, rich in nature as well as native myth, legend and culture. Nature — streams, waterfalls, a cave, forests, fire, the earth and the bones buried in it, even the air we breathe — comes alive in this beautiful story
~Greensboro, NC News & Record
A richly woven wonder—textured and honest, with a plot that rolls out gently and confidently, not unlike the mountains of Western North Carolina where the story is set.
An engaging debut novel.
~New York Journal of Books
A lovely story that engages its readers and gives them a vivid experience in Cherokee culture.