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The Cowboy and the Cossack, By Clair Huffaker

Cowboy

Huffaker, C. (1973). The cowboy and the Cossack. New York: Trident Press.

Paperback $14.95, Hardcover $37.95,  Kindle $3.99, Audiobook 13 hours, 352 pages

ISBN: 978-1612183695

Author’s Website and Interviews:  No author website-author is deceased

Blog Post by Clair’s daughter Sam Kirkeby: http://www.nancypearl.com/?p=1224

Online Reviews:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/220812.The_Cowboy_and_the_Cossack

Annotation: Rostov barely hesitated as he pulled the trigger knowing that ending this man’s suffering meant preserving his honor in the face of the enemy.

Summary: Set in 1880, the story charts the journey of 15 Montana cowboys as they sail to Vladivostok, Russia to deliver a herd of 500 longhorns to the small Siberian town of Bakaskaya. Upon arriving in Vladivostok, the men encounter Yakolev, a harbor master intent on denying them permission to deliver their herd, however, Shad, the cowboy’s leader decides to sail to a beach outside of town and proceeds to have his men push the cattle off the boat and have then swim to shore. After reaching shore, the cowboys encounter a band of of 15 Cossacks who have been ordered to escort the men to Bakaskaya to ensure the longhorns are delivered safely. As the group of cowboys and Cossacks make the often treacherous journey across the Siberian wilderness, they are forced to endure a clash of cultures, the Tartar army, and wild animals which they must fight together in order to survive. Rostov, the Cossack leader, and Shad join forces to ensure they safety of their men, often teaching each other about honor and courage, something that seems to transcend language and cultural barriers. Although both sides experience great loss at the hands of the harsh wilderness and opposing soldiers, they form a united front in the name of freedom.

Evaluation: I can’t say enough good things about this book. Superb writing and character development. It is a powerful look at honor and courage from the perspective of two vastly different cultures. Although the differences amongst the men are many, they all find a commonality in their humanness. Huffaker’s writing is beautiful, powerful, and draws the reader into this world where wilderness and man pose the greatest threat. The story moves at a quick enough pace to keep you interested but goes slow enough to ensure you grasp the all of the small details. It definitely rises above western cliches and portrays the men in complex, dynamic, and realistic ways.

Genre: Western

Appeal Factors: Fast-paced, character-driven, humorous, witty, atmospheric, descriptive, and moving

Read-alike Titles and Authors:

  • Cuba Libre, by Elmore Leonard
  • From the Listening Hills, by Louis L’Amour
  • Shifting Calder Wind, by Janet Dailey

 Awards: This book has not won any awards

Booktalk Ideas:

  • Talk with your reader and/or audience by reading dialogue from the book, especially dialogue between Rostov and Levi, and between Rostov and Shad.
  • Evoke a sense of empathy for one of the characters, make the reader walk in their shoes. Ex. Rostov’s decision to end the suffering of one of the men.

Book Discussion Questions:

  1. How were the cowboys and the Cossacks different? Similar? What was the turning point that brought the men together?
  2. Shad and Rostov are from two different cultures yet seem to see the world through the same lens. What makes both men such great leaders? Do you think one is better at leading his men than the other? If so, why?
  3. Levi grows close to Rostov during their journey.  Why does Levi connect to him and the philosophical stories he tells? What do the stories about the swans represent for both the cowboys and the Cossacks?
  4. Why is the burial of Igor’s horse so significant? What does it say about the Cossacks and honor? Do you think the cowboys would have done the same thing, why or why not?
  5. Did you find Rostov’s actions towards Shad after he is captured by the Tartars honorable? Why is it significant that he was the one to pull the trigger?

This book was a recommendation from one of my professor’s and I wanted to expand my reading in the western genre. I read reviews on Goodreads and was impressed at the positive response. I was intrigued by the premise of the book and wanted to see how cowboys and Cossacks interacted and whether any similarities would be revealed as the book progressed. I have never read a western novel that is set outside of the United States so the fact that it was set in the Siberian wilderness was initially what hooked me.