BOOK REVIEW: ‘A Land Remembered’ by Patrick D. Smith

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A Land Remembered” was the March selection for my book club. This novel is historical fiction of Florida from 1858 until 1960s. It was published in 1984. I did not think this could possibly be a choice for a book review in 2024. But “A Land Remembered” was winner of the Florida Historical Society’s TeBeau Prize for the Most Outstanding Florida Historical Novel. It is now in its 14th hardcover printing. It was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1984. It was also ranked #1 Best Florida Book by Florida Monthly Magazine. If you grew up watching “Rawhide” or “Wagon” Train with your daddy or are a fan of “Yellowstone,” this book is for you!

The novel begins in Miami in the 1960s with Sol MacIvey, who is now an old man. At the end of life, he is regretful for all the land developments he has implemented, which damaged the environment.

The next chapter is about Tobias and Emma MacIvey and their son Zechariah, who have left Georgia in search of a better life. They settle in central Florida near the Kissimmee River. First the MacIveys struggle to survive in the wilderness of Florida. They suffer from hunger after wild boars destroy their crops. Bears try to tear down their barn to eat the oxen. Mosquitos dominate the wetlands of the undeveloped countryside. Confederate Army deserters try to steal their cattle, their horse and the beef they have butchered and preserved.

The MacIveys become friends with a tribe of Seminole Indians, who teach them how to capture the wild cattle. The Seminoles also give the MacIveys a small horse, known as a marsh tacky, and two dogs to help with herding and protection. The MacIveys and other new arrivals to Florida are nicknamed Florida Crackers because they use whips to move cattle: a name that is still used today.

After much time and hard work the MacIveys have enough cattle to move to the coast to sell. While moving cattle they have to deal with rattlesnakes, alligators, bushwhackers and cattle rustlers. Later on, they try growing orange trees. After a several failed attempts, Tobias is successful. He is sure growing oranges will be easier than herding cattle. But the orange business has its own set of problems. The MacIveys must endure the blizzard of 1899, the Miami hurricane in 1926 and the Lake Okeechobee hurricane in 1928.

The majority of the book is about the pioneer men. But the pioneer women worked just as hard to settle the Florida wilderness. The author’s writing is so descriptive, he paints a picture with his words. The reader feels transported to the Florida wilderness. This novel is fast paced and full of adventure.

Patrick D. Smith was an American author. His works have been nominated seven times for the Pulitzer Prize and five times for the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was voted the most beloved of Florida’s contemporary writers by a major Florida magazine. “A Land Remembered” has been voted the most insightful book ever written about Florida. He was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, which is the highest honor that can be bestowed on any Floridian in the arts. Smith was selected as one of the Great Floridians by Governor Rick Scott. His novels has been published in 48 languages. 

Cathy Lay Mayor grew up in Cullman and graduated from Cullman High School in 1976. She says when she writes book reviews, she tries to remember what Mrs. Gilbert taught her in 11th-grade English. She lived in Dothan for more than 30 years and is married with three adult children and six grandchildren. She retired to Panama City, but still calls Alabama home.