Same Ground: Chasing Family Down the California Gold Rush Trail

Wangersky, Russell

  • “Read him.” — George Elliott Clarke, author of I & I and George and Rue

    An award-winning author goes looking for the meaning of family and belonging on a glorious wild-goose-chase road trip across middle America

    Wangersky’s great-great-grandfather crossed the continent in search of gold in 1849. William Castle Dodge was his name, and he was 22 years old. He wrote a diary of that eventful journey that comes into the author’s hands 160 years later. And typically, quixotically, Wangersky decides to follow Dodge’s westward trail across the great bulging middle of America, not in search of gold but something even less likely: that elusive thing called family.

    What ensues becomes this story, by turns hilarious and profound, about a very long trip — by car, in Wangersky’s case, and on mule and foot in Dodge’s. Interweaving his experiences on the road with Dodge’s diary, the author contemplates the human need to hunt for roots and meaning as he — and Dodge — encounter immigrants who risk everything to be somewhere else, while only glimpsing those who are there already and who want to hold onto their claim in the stream of human migration.

    Same Ground is a story about what time washes away and what persists — and what we might find, unexpectedly, if we go looking.

    Book Club Guide: Same Ground by Russell Wangersky


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  • Russell Wangersky is the multiple-award-winning author of seven books of fiction and non-fiction, including Burning Down the House, Whirl Away, and The Hour of Bad Decisions. Formerly a columnist with the SaltWire newspaper chain, he is currently editor-in-chief of the Saskatchewan Postmedia newspapers. He lives in Saskatoon, SK.

  • Published: September 2022

    ISBN: 9781770416543

    Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5 in.

    Pages: 368

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“Russell Wangersky is a natural-born storyteller, and he weaves together two starkly different, yet oddly complementary journeys — past and present, home and away — and does so with great aplomb. Less a travel book than a palimpsest, Same Ground overlays the Gold Rush Trail of ’49 with its modern equivalent, featuring cowboys and cardsharps, dodgy motels and tatty roadside attractions, the ‘natural beauty’ of a slag pour and towns that died of thirst. A thoughtful, meditative look at the open road and where it can lead us.” — Will Ferguson, Giller Prize-winning author of 419 and The Finder

“Overlaid like a stereoscope, past and present give Wangersky’s pilgrimage along the Gold Rush trail vivid three-dimensional reality. His great-great-grandfather’s diary is packed with fascinating detail, and the quest to see what he saw opens the old and the new west to our eyes. As the modern couple scuffle around in the desert, the road also reveals the anatomy of a marriage — as all the best journeys do. A thoroughly enjoyable book.” — Marina Endicott, author of The Difference

Same Ground emerges as a rich and dynamic story of family, in which Wangersky draws his own conclusions about what defines family and home through his travels. The author balances descriptions of colourful sights, personalities, and moments, with reflections on culture, migration and values. His prose is vivid and honest; his insights invite the readers to probe deeply into the values of culture and family that shape us.” — The Miramichi Reader

“This was a great read.” — Lady Reading 365 blog

“Russell Wangersky weaves the diary of his ancestor’s trek in 1849 with his own pursuit along the California Gold Rush Trail in a seamless tapestry that melds space and time. His theme is connection: his own lost family, the families he and his wife Leslie meet on the blue highways of America, the moms and pops who run the motels and the diners. Same Ground takes us on a wild chase into the uncharted territories of the heart.” — Wayne Grady, author of The Good Father

“I fell absolutely in love with Russell Wangersky’s Same Ground. The charming sense of wry humour, the quest to understand family and find roots, the deeply moving search for meaning in the face of mortality, the sharp insights, the keen eye, the vicarious peeks into life on the Gold Rush Trail of 1849, the road trip with a purpose — all of it makes for delightful company. What a ride! I’d follow this literary voice anywhere.” — Angie Abdou, author of This One Wild Life

“I’m enjoying Russell’s exquisite descriptions of sagebrush, the quirkiness of vintage motels and family diners, and the expanses of night sky and open plain as they drive as close as they can to the route his ancestor followed by horse and wagon, by mule and on foot. But what I’m enjoying even more is their pursuit of family ties, the search for linkages and meaning between that generation and the ones that followed.” —Saltwire

“Armchair travelers and history buffs interested in political and social issues, including immigration, civil rights, and environmental justice will appreciate this unique, solidly narrated title.” — Library Journal Audio Book Review