cover of book

The Desert Between Us: A Novel
by Phyllis Barber
University of Nevada Press, 2020
eISBN: 978-1-948908-57-3 | Cloth: 978-1-948908-56-6
Library of Congress Classification PS3552.A59197
Dewey Decimal Classification 813.54


2020 Reading the West Book Awards, Longlist for Fiction
2020 Association for Morman Letters Finalist, Fiction

The Desert Between Us is a sweeping, multi-layered novel based on the U.S. government’s decision to open more routes to California during the Gold Rush. To help navigate this waterless, largely unexplored territory, the War Department imported seventy-five camels from the Middle East to help traverse the brutal terrain that was murderous on other livestock.

Geoffrey Scott, one of the roadbuilders, decides to venture north to discover new opportunities in the opening of the American West when he—and the camels—are no longer needed. Geoffrey arrives in St. Thomas, Nevada, a polygamous settlement caught up in territorial fights over boundaries and new taxation. There, he falls in love with Sophia Hughes, a hatmaker obsessed with beauty and the third wife of a polygamist. Geoffrey believes Sophia wants to be free of polygamy and go away with him to a better life, but Sophia’s motivations are not so easily understood. She had become committed to Mormon beliefs in England and had moved to Utah Territory to assuage her spiritual needs.

The death of Sophia’s child and her illicit relationship with Geoffrey generate a complex nexus where her new love for Geoffrey competes with societal expectations and a rugged West seeking domesticity. When faced with the opportunity to move away from her polygamist husband and her tumultuous life in St. Thomas, Sophia becomes tormented by a life-changing decision she must face alone.

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