“The son of Shoshone pathfinder Sacagawea and a French trapper, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau led a remarkable life spanning many cultures and languages, although he belonged to none… [Across the Endless River is] gracefully done…Scientific enquiry, landscapes, politics and manners predominate, often via such cinematic set pieces as a hunt, a ball or a musical soiree with Schubert… [Across the Endless River] sensitively compares and contrasts the Old World with the New.” —Kirkus
1. The first part of Across the Endless River is called “Two Paths.” What do you think this initially refers to and how does this designation come to gain significance throughout the narrative?
2. When Baptiste and Duke Paul first arrive in Paris, Baptiste sees things he had never before imagined. What strikes him as impressive or interesting? As his travels continue, does Baptiste’s wonder about these new experiences remain?
3. Baptiste first meets Maura at a ball in Paris. How is she different from other young women of her time? What choices does she face, both professionally and personally? How do these compare to the choices Baptiste confronts?
4. After his mother’s death, Baptiste is left without a true paternal presence— “Everyone claimed to be his father: Charbonneau, Clark, Chouteau, Limping Bear, President Jefferson, Jesus himself.” How does this lack of a traditional father figure shape Baptiste?
5. In Baptiste’s travels, we witness both a buffalo hunt with the Pawnee tribe along the Missouri River basin as well as a stag hunt in a forest in France. What differences strike you about the two ways of hunting animals in the 1820s? What does this tell us about the choices facing those living in such different worlds?
6. Baptiste gradually feels that he lives “in between” two different worlds—without being wholly part of either. Why does he feel this way? Are there present-day situations that give rise to this sense of being on the edge of two languages, cultures, and sets of customs?
7. In Paris, Baptiste, Duke Paul, and Professor Picard visit Georges Cuvier at the Muséum D’Histoire naturelle. While looking at the collection of animal skeletons there, Baptiste is entranced by the bones of a whale. Why is this skeleton so impressive to him? What resonance does it have with his past?
8. How does Baptiste come to think of the frontier during his time in
Europe? What particular features— geographic or cultural—does he most miss?
9. In discussing the importance of marriage among European aristocrats, Theresa tells Baptiste, “Compromising with power to protect their interests is something women do every day of their lives. Never forget that, Baptiste.” Where do we see examples of this in the lives of the women in the book?
10. In a letter to Maura, Baptiste refers to something her father had said: “For those of us who live on the edges of different worlds, history has wounded us and love must save us.” How would you interpret this in terms of the book’s principal characters?
11. Explain the significance of letter/journal writing in the book. It is through journal writing that we really get a taste of Duke Paul’s perspective. What do we learn about Baptiste through Duke Paul’s writings? What do we discover about Baptiste’s feelings about being abroad through his letters to Captain Clark? How do we see Maura and Baptiste’s relationship grow through their written correspondence?
12. How does Baptiste’s early bond with his mother prepare him for his future romantic relationships? What does Theresa offer Baptiste that Maura does not and vice versa?
13. What in Maura’s past prepares her for life in America? Is her notion of becoming a wine merchant on the frontier realistic? Would her choice be yours?
14. Baptiste carries a small carved stone bird in his pocket. What is the significance of this piece to him? What does it represent?