I've always had an inkling that the past is ever present. There are things we just can't seem to fathom about the past, which is why we wrestle with whether some things are true, and whether some are not. Once I had an experience that left me bereft for a time because I could not understand what was happening. Driving to Atlanta from Houston, haven driven all night, the sunrise was perfect ... almost. While driving on I-65 I could just see the outline of kudzu-draped trees as light crept through. I remember thinking, how beautiful. In that same instance, however, an overwhelming feeling of grief wracked my body and I had to pull over to the side of the road because my hands were shaking and it felt as if my heart was breaking. Years later, on a trip to Brazil, an indigenous man said that I had walked through the shadows to a moment of pain-filled knowledge of the past. I recognized the truth of his words remembering that as soon as the sun was full in the sky, the pain ended and I could drive again. I was somewhere else for a short period of time, in my mind, in my heart ... in reality.
David Berry has written a book that resonates that experience. The book is Gate in the Fence of Time, A Journey to the Birth of America, a historical novel with a twist. From the 21st Century, the Sinclair Family, protagonists in this strange time travel tale, learns that the reasons for the American Revolution were not what they thought. David weaves a tale that is not quite fantastical, but is an unrestrained journey to the past like no other. As a reader of serial time travel books like Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, Berry's time travel narrative compels us to recognize that the members of the Sinclair Family are all in some strange time warp that I believe unintentionally happens to many of us at one time or another. Plus, I believe that this ever-present past lives with us and might be the reason for most of our systemic problems in America. We all carry pieces of the past inside of us, which wrestles with what we’ve been taught or think we know.
Gate doesn't spend a lot time defining time travel, per se. However, as the family unwittingly grapples with the shadows that they pass through, recognizing that something is amiss, neither is unwilling to investigate. It is that part of this storytelling odyssey that I loved the best. Sometimes when we intuit that there is more to a story, or know that something is not quite right, it is said that our bodies react with either a fight or flight response. The characters, John, the father, Susan, the mother, and Megan and Peter, their young adult children, have a compilation of responses, but all in all, their response of bravery echoes throughout the story from start to finish. As they find themselves in Virginia's 1775, where they meet gentry, slaves, indentured servants and other people, they are compelled to act, to respond. They are also aware that there is more to history and that finding truth is at the core of who they are. It is one of the finest reads of America's history, although fictionalized, that I've read to date.
I had the opportunity to have a digital sit down with Mr. Berry to ask him questions about his book and how Gate in the Fence of Time came to be.
What led you to want to write a book about the birth of America?
The seed to write this story was planted on a visit to colonial Williamsburg many years ago. In speaking with costumed re-enactors several questions came to mind:
How would a slave seek freedom long before the Underground Railroad?
Since the taxes imposed by the Stamp Act and Townsend Duties were repealed several years before the outbreak of fighting, what other reasons actually triggered the revolutionary war?
How is it possible that Native Americans had survived in the area and still lived near colonial Williamsburg in modern times when so many Virginia tribes had gone extinct?
I begin to read to look into these questions and uncovered surprising answers and other intriguing and real history that we are not taught in school. Gradually the ideas and historical facts grew into storylines and I decided to write a historical novel.
Your book takes a modern day family back in time before the signing of the declaration of independence. There have been other books that are about time travel, yet your time travel is unique in its supposition that no stone or special magic helped them get there. Would you mind explaining your understanding of time travel to our readers?
Rather than create a premise for time travel based on sunspots, magic, or secret passageways as happens in several novels and movies I have encountered, I decided to have the characters from the present gradually experience the past through the vehicle of enhanced imagination. In that kind of experience each individual first might get subtle glimmers and then perhaps a full on experience of being in the past. The different characters slip into the past at different rates. From interactions I've had with Arctic and rain forest shamans, and in various retreat settings in the Himalayas, and wilderness of Canada and Mexico, I've witnessed what a powerful vehicle the imagination can be.
The Sinclair family, a mother and father and their two grown children, wrestle with the realities of a period in time they've only read about. In your research, how did you choose what was important for each Sinclair to impacted by? What process did you use in creating the storyline (dynamics) that impacted each family member?
The novel needed to include storylines from slaves and the Virginia gentry, from indentured servants and soldiers, from Quakers, Native Americans, and immigrants from a surprising number of places. I matched up the interests and experiences of the four main modern characters with the colonial era storylines that fit them best. Then by building relationships between them and characters in the past, the history became a very real experience to the modern characters and hopefully to the readers.
What was the hardest part of writing about the birth of America? Did you struggle with giving those of different heritage a voice? How did you conquer that?
Growing up I was blessed by having contact with people of different heritages as long as I can remember. I was surprised when I ran into people that did not feel their own connection to the rest of humanity. I should not have been surprised because people have divided themselves that way throughout history (and deep into pre-history). One of the points of the story is to reveal the connections at deeper levels.
In writing this novel, I researched the environments, cultures, and lifestyles of each of the groups and individuals woven into the stories. The biggest challenge in writing about the birth of American was to search for details in real history that were accurate and could be woven into the story. Sometimes it took a long time to find real historical gems but with persistence and luck lots of them did appear.
Lastly, historical novels always are written with the idea of not only what happened in the past, but to give voice to the period of that time? What do you want your readers to walk away with concerning Gate in the Fence of Time?
Like our colonial and revolutionary forebears, we live in turbulent, challenging times. In the novel I weave in a variety of approaches to spiritual depth through Christian, Native American, African, and other traditions. Like the characters in the story I hope that in our time we can find ways to renew ourselves, overcome the divisions we impose, and clear our vision so that we can act and interact with kindness, patience, and wisdom.
UNDERCOVER: Book Reviews for the 21st Century is a weekly blog on books that can make the world a better place. Storytelling is a powerful tool for peace and justice. Your responses are appreciated.
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For more information about how to get your copy of Gate in the Fence of Time, A Journey to the Birth of America, you can order at your favorite bookstore using ISBN #978-0985-8680-24 or order directly at https://www.createspace.com/4027994. After you have a chance to enjoy this novel, please feel free to send your reviews to GoodReads or at Amazon.
About the Author: David Berry served seven years at the Council of Environment Quality at the White House. The idea to write Gate in the Fence of Time began with a visit to Colonial Williamsburg long ago. He procrastinated on actually writing it until the characters in the book began to insist on being heard.
Next week, join us in a review of God Made Your Great by Dr. Kemba Black, a children’s book that challenges us to believe that we all have greatness within us. Illustrations by Michelle Quintero