Book Review: Symphony of Spirits a gripping tale of 17th-century America

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Are spirits helpful or harmful? Can an old man whose life is almost over find a new purpose to live for? Can family ties give people the strength to overcome danger and hardship?

In James and Marion Applegate’s Symphony of Spirits: A Native American Love Story (available from AuthorHouse, 2005, 207 pages), a gripping tale of 17th-century America, we meet Snapping Turtle, a grandfather of the Lenni Lenape tribe that live along the Delaware River; his daughter, granddaughter, and his grandson Osprey. In the old man’s dreams, we even catch glimpses of his departed wife, whom he misses and still loves dearly.

While grandfather and grandson are out fishing, their village is raided by enemy Minquas, led by a ruthless tyrant called Gamek, who kills Snapping Turtle’s son-in-law and kidnaps his daughter and granddaughter.

Osprey is 14 years old and on the verge of young manhood. Though told to stay home, he feels the Manit’towuk, unseen spirits, urging him to follow his grandfather on the trail to rescue their family. On the way, the boy is captured by the enemy warriors, and Snapping Turtle has to rise to new challenges testing his courage, ingenuity, stamina and his ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Together, grandfather and grandson set out on a quest to rescue their loved ones and destroy Gamek, who has gained a feared reputation as the son of a river spirit. Snapping Turtle is forced to act quickly and decisively, pursuing his evil antagonist and matching wits with someone he knows is torturing his defenseless relatives. Along the way, he and Osprey ask help from the Manit’towuk. Sensitive to the signs of nature, Snapping Turtle searches for clues as to his next move. Guided by the beneficent spirit of a tundra swan, they move through the forest avoiding Gamek’s traps and setting a few of their own.

Snapping Turtle manages to infiltrate Gamek’s palisade disguised as a slave and gains valuable information to plan a rescue operation. Later, among the captives taken by Gamek, young love begins to bloom as Osprey finds a soulmate. But can they escape from Gamek and bring their dream to fruition?

Through it all, Snapping Turtle never loses his courage, his focus on who he is, the heritage he strives to protect, or his love for his long-lost wife, who still beckons to him in dreams. As the back cover of the book says, “Known as ‘Peace Makers’ by the people living in the wilderness beyond the borders of New Jersey, the ancestors of the Lenni Lenape Indians, represented by Snapping Turtle, lived honorable lives worthy of admiration. Symphony of Spirits sings the often-forgotten songs of their anguish and of their joys.”

James and Marion Applegate wrote this story after researching the life of an ancestor who immigrated to New Amsterdam in the 1600s. After her ship sank off the coast of New Jersey and the passengers went ashore, hostile natives killed her husband and left her for dead. But friendly Indians found her and nursed her back to health. According to the publisher’s press release, “James earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Dubuque (Iowa) and his master of arts for teachers degree from Rockford College. He taught high school English in Rockford for 32 years. Marion earned her bachelor’s degree from Rockford College and taught fourth and fifth grades for 21 years in the Kinnikinnick School District in Illinois… This book is the first in a planned series of novels that feature the remarkable culture of the Lenni Lenape Indians of the Northeast.”

We look forward to hearing more from these authors. For more information, visit the Web site of

From the Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2005, issue

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