Dakota, Or What’s a Heaven For:    Awards and Reviews

A nineteenth-century epic. Imagine a Midwestern Middlemarch, if you will, that conjures the Gilded Age in a succession of sweeping panoramas and intimate portraits. Brenda Marshall puts me in mind of an American Sarah Waters, a writer at once in persuasive command of history and simultaneously able to slip beneath its skin to the story beneath. This is a vibrant, teeming work, filled with feeling, intelligence and ultimately, grace.

Peter Ho Davies (author of The Welsh Girl)

Reading Brenda Marshall's wonderful Dakota is a bit like walking into an exhibition hall where all the displays are quite alive and look right back at you. From the smallest details--a cat asleep in a cold frying pan--to the largest ones of geo-political development, this novel is brilliantly inclusive in its understanding of how a region develops, and the breath of life flows all the way through it.

Charles Baxter (author of Gryphon: New and Selected Stories)

This is a great story, set against the historic events of Dakota Territory's early political and economic turmoil. Marshall conveys a strong sense of the hope and anguish that land hunger delivered to both the rich and poor who sought to dredge the full potential from the reluctant soil. At the center of the story are two determined women whose lives depart from the expectations of their day and intersect in surprising ways.

Barbara Handy-Marchello (author of Women of the Northern Plains: Gender & Settlement on the Homestead Frontier, 1870-1930)


Finalist for High Plains Book Award
"Silver Medal" for Best Regional Fiction (Mid-West) from Independent Publisher Awards


Minneapolis/St. Paul StarTribune

A sweeping novel set on the plains of North Dakota...Alexander "Boss" McKenzie and his political stooges are here, and so are people--high-born and low, rich Yankees and penniless immigrants--who struggle with alcohol, greed, family dysfunction, thwarted ambition and despair. Marshall writes about them all, giants and failures, and their Dakota, with grace and sensitivity. ((continue reading review)

Historical Novel Review (Editor's Choice/Boxed Review)

This dense, splendid novel, set in the Dakota Territory in the 1870s and '80s, rests on the shoulders of two extraordinary women. Frances, well-bred, educated, burning with intelligence and frustrated ambitions, marries a man to stay close to his sister, her real love....Part of Marshall's considerable skill is to give equal weight to the land's transformative influence on Frances. She is a wonderful character, willful and fierce, too clever to be good, but it's Kirsten Knudson, child of Norwegian immigrants, whose appearances I waited for....Her voice is terrific, funny and wise and full of vigor. (Full review in HNR, Issue 55, February 2011; continue reading review)

Book Club Classics, November 2011

[A] delightful choice for any book club interested in historical fiction, pioneer epics, how the role of women has changed throughout the founding of our country, or rich, character-based narratives.(read full review)

Perpetual Folly, November 2011

This novel tells a surprising and a compelling story that you haven’t heard before, and it’s filled with extraordinarily complex and memorable characters.(read full review)

BlogCritics.org, November 2011

[T]he book is a meticulous tapestry....an homage not only to the people but to the land and the profound relationship between the two. (read full review) Versions of this review are also posted on prairieprogressive.com and seattlepi.com.

Bella Online.com, November 2011

Sometimes fate brings a book into your hands...(read full review)

Bismarck Tribune, August 12, 2011

Marshall makes history come alive...(read full review)

Billings Gazette, July 24, 2011

Though Marshall immerses her readers in the public dimension of her characters' lives with impressive historical specificity — this is the traditional core of this realistic novel — the private lives she fleshes out are refreshingly nontraditional. (read full review)

AnnArbor.com, January 2011

Humble reader, have you ever become so enmeshed within the intricate world of a novel that finishing it was like leaving behind a friend or a place you once called home? If you haven’t ever felt the pull of a practically corporeal novel, it’s high time. Author, and part-time University of Michigan English professor, Brenda K. Marshall, has worked tirelessly to present the reader with just this type of experience. “If an author has done her job well, then the reading experience will stay with her audience,” she explains, “not just the book, not just the characters, but the whole sensibility of the book.” (continue reading review)

Ann Arbor Observer, November 2010

In Browning's famous Victorian poem "Andrea del Sarto," the titular speaker, an Italian Renaissance painter, justifies his way with his art by asserting that "a man's reach should exceed his grasp, / Or what's a heaven for?" Brenda Marshall titles her expansive and absorbing new historical novel Dakota: Or What's a Heaven For. Marshall clearly used some late nineteenth-century models (think Middlemarch) to build her book, and she shares the love of detail, politics, and the historical moment those earlier novelists used as they slowly built their characters. (continue reading review)

Other Media


LSA Magazine, Fall 2011, p.46, "Wide-Open and Close-Knit: Bringing 19th-century Dakota Territory to Life"


Sonora Review, posted February 21, 2011.

Authors' Forum at Hatcher Library, University of Michigan, 2011. Introductions by Karl Pohrt and Tom Fricke, reading, and interview.

Dakota, or What's a Heaven For Reader Reviews

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