Book review: 'Onward Alone' shares a collection of heroines

By Emily Christensen

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, May 12 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

"ONWARD ALONE: Women Left Behind by the Mormon Battalion," by Caroline Prohosky, Covenant Communications, $15.99, 192 pages (nf)

Caroline Prohosky, an assistant professor in the dance department at Brigham Young University, has created an outstanding compliation with her recent book and accompanying DVD, "Onward Alone: Women Left Behind by the Mormon Battalion."

"Onward Alone" includes personal accounts by several of the women left behind in the summer of 1846 when 500 men were called away from their families to march with the Mormon Battalion to the Mexican War, and the included DVD presents these stories through dance (disappointingly, the DVD is not closed-captioned).

The majority of "Onward Alone" is a collections of profiles of the specific women, interspersed with bits of history and context. There are chapters about enduring the difficulty of limited communication and the challenges of living on the winter prairie, and there are chapters about the blessings, miracles and beauty of these experiences. The stories are tender enough to elicit tears while offering the challenge to be at the level of faith these women demonstrated.

"Onward Alone" opens with several short chapters as a preface, telling the story of the early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, Ill., the trek to Winter Quarters, Neb., the call to arms and the difficult parting of men from their families. The first poem is introduced then, one of Prohosky's own, titled "Tears" and powerful enough to leave the reader in tears. And then begins the story of the women left behind.

The stories flow like banners of color intertwined with rhythms found in private letters, poems and journal entries. Scripture verses, priesthood leader quotes and hymns wrap each story in the gentle strength displayed by each woman through heart-wrenching experiences in desperate conditions. The book is laid out like the dances themselves, with bits of story told but wrapped in lyrics that express the struggle each woman experienced and the strength she found in the gospel.

There is no table of contents, leaving the book's organization a bit difficult to track. The disjointed narrative arc truly reflects the experience of the women being separated from who and what they knew. The benefit of this is the ability to pick up the book, open to any chapter and be swept away by Prohosky's lyrical storytelling.

Emily Christensen, Ph.D., lives with her husband in Oklahoma. Her Ph.D. is in marriage and family therapy, and she is pursuing a degree in Hebrew and Jewish studies. Her blog is www.housewifeclass.com, and her email is housewifeclass@gmail.com

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