Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Heart Mender by Andy Andrews

By now I should know if I see "New York Times Best Seller" as the big draw card for a book that the book is not likely to be of interest to me, but this was a local  book club selection and one I'd not read.  It's also one sappy sentimental tale, that most of the women loved, but one I could have done without. Paperback, published 2010 and first in 2005 by Thomas Nelson, Inc, 239 pages and a Reader's Guide.  The author claims it is a true story with perhaps some embellishment.  It was a very fast read for me, started out better but kept going on and on; as I said, sappy....one of these books overloaded with sentimentality and pages upon pages about forgiveness..triteness that has been written every where before..just what some women like to read, but not me.  I thought I might learn a bit about WWII and the German submarines off the Atlantic coast and the Gulf Shores of  potential interest to me because of the disappearance of my father and his B-24 plane and crew in June 1944 and speculation to this day about a German U boat sinking it.  So there was a bit of history.  We have traveled to this area, set primarily in Foley, Alabama and those gulf shores so I was familiar with the setting.  Still, I  will be passing this book along.  Apparently this is a well liked author, but then so are many who specialize in the quick reading low information style.

It is the tale of  the people, Helen a bereft young WWII widow who moves to Alabama to care for her aunt, her only relative, Helen is a case study of hard luck; other characters,  Billy and Margaret Gilbert who own the local cafe and  hire Helen after  her aunt passes, of their son, Davey autistic or developmentally disabled, the local constable Wan and Josef Newman, the  German sailor whom Helen finds on the beach.  According to the author, this book was his greatest career disappointment  and his favorite.  It was first a manuscript, "Island of Saints"  and "through issues of bad timing, ..little previous success and zero publicity the book was quickly forgotten."   I give it a 2 or 3 **---*** although the book club members liked it.  I prefer more depth in reading so it just might be suitable for those interested in a quick non absorbing read.

World Without End by Ken Follett

This sequel to "Pillars of the Earth" is the second of the trilogy to this sensational historical fictional saga by this masterful  story teller and researcher..I read it in less than a month, all 1014 small print pages in this massive paperback tome published by the New American Library.   First published in 2007 in a Dutton edition, it is a delight for any historical fiction reader continuing the  tale of Kingsbridge Priory early England, reaching across the channel into France and as far as Florence Italy.  How Follett weaves all the many characters through the novel while covering suspense, tragedy, triumph, the breadth of human emotions, vice and character traits all the better to humanize the people is a testament to the gift of this author and his intense research.  

From the back cover, "Two centuries after the townspeople of Kingsbridge finished building their exquisite Gothic cathedral, four children slip into the forest and witness a killing...an event that will braid their lives together by ambition, love, greed, and revenge."   It begins December 1, 1327,  page 1, "Gwenda was eight years old, but she was not afraid of the dark.  When she opened her eyes she could see nothing, but that was not what scared her.  She knew where she was.  She was lying on the floor in a bed of straw at Kingsbridge Priory in the long stone building they called the hospital.  Her mother lay next to her.....When the dawn broke it would be All Hallows, a Sunday this year and therefore an especially holy day..." 

Among so much history of the English and French wars, the crusades, the plague, the church with it's plethora of sometimes evil leaders, I  refreshed myself and learned new history either forgotten by me or not known.  I had always believed that our current jury system was based on Old English Law,  the old common law..but learned on page 210 that indeed the concept of 12 men jurors  (and they were all men then) stretched back to Normandy, France.  

It would not be essential to have read the first novel, Pillars to appreciate this tale, but it would give a sense of familiarity and continuity to have done so and I am glad that I did.  I now look forward to reading the 3rd of this saga.   It is a book into which the reader can be truly drawn, enfolded and engrossed. Multiple characters, multiple plots and life which is not always triumphant jump off the pages.  I need say no more, Follett is famous for his intrigue.

   I give this a 5 *****.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Eagan

My good friend, Carlie, sent this book along to me with a note that she could not put it down.  I read it in October and though it started rather slowly I was drawn into the story of the life of Edward Curtis who dedicated his life to photographic preservation of the American Indians of the west in the late 1890's and early 1900's.  Starting to read, I was not familiar with Edward but when I saw some of the photos included in this wonderful biography particularly that iconic marvelous sepia of Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce I realized I had indeed some familiarity with Curtis having seen his photos in travels through the West particularly in exhibits about Native Americans.  
Chief Joseph

This book winner of the National  ook Award, published by Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcort, in 2013 of 325 pages supplemented by an index and 25 pages of notes and sources presents a history of the early days of photography as well as of the Indians through the tragic  life of Curtis.  He's born in February 1868 in Whitewater, WI, the second of  four children to Johnson Curtis and Ellen Sheriff, a dirt poor family.  His schooling is only through the sixth grade because at 14  he went to work on the railroad to support the family.  The hard luck of the father plagues Edward too who moves with him to Puget Sound to homestead in the fall of 1887; they send for Ellen and the two youngest siblings in May 1888 but Johnson dies three days after their arrival. At only 20 Ed is the sole support again of the family but at 22 suffers a severe fall at work and is bedridden for a year, the hard luck of the father almost seems hereditary.  While he is healing he is inspired to photography, by 1891 he is off to Seattle and marries Clara who visited him while he was bedridden.   By 1895 they have a son and Curtis is  rather successful in Seattle so he brings  his mother, siblings and Clara's sister to live with them.  He and his brother Asahel "have an explosive spat" over photographs and never speak again. 

Edward Curtis
Soon the rush north to Alaska and the Klondike gold are in full swing and while mountaineering on Mt Ranier Curtis  rescues Grinnell and Merrian, eastern naturalists and explorers whom he hosts at his studio showroom later.  They are intrigued with his photographs, pg. 32..."His Indians were a startling departure from the usual depictions of these people.  There were in the faces, human beings, not character types."   .. "Good pictures, Curtis explained, are not products of chance, but come from long hours of study."  Grinnell and Merrian return east but stay in touch with him and in spring 1899 they ask him to join them in the largest  scientific exploration of Alaska where he had previously traveled.  It was to be the last great exploratory expedition of its kind in North America dating to Lewis and Clark, 100 years earlier.  (pg.34)  May 1899 he accompanies them on the steamship along with supplies, livestock and the two best known natrualists in America, John Muir and John Burroughs and Gifford Pinchot, a man of the woods fro a wealthy family.  But I cannot continue to tell the full tragic tale, you must read this for yourself.  His epoch works with Indians, living amongst them over years  earns him the ShadowCatcher" name from Arizona Indians.  He never really achieves the fame during life that he earned  despite  being befriended by President Teddy Roosevelt and backed financially and then clearly shafted by J.P.Morgan and the Morgan survivors.  He comes close to recognition but the black cloud always rises, so it is not a happy story, it is a story of a real life.  On October 19, 1952 Curtis died of a heart attack living in  a small apartment in Beverly Hills, CA; his last years were not pleasant although he tried to capture and document some of his memories for his children s children, he had suffered, become nearly blind and grew crankier.   

The last paragraph of the epilogue, pgs. 324-325 sums the tale, "Though Edward Curtis never made a dime producing what was arguably  the most expansive and comprehensive publication undertaken by a single citizen of the US though  he went to his death without the acknowledgement he so wanted in life, and though he paid for his obsession with the loss of friends, a marriage and the irreplaceable hours of watching a family bloom, he always believed his words and pictures would come to life long after he'd passed--the artist's  lasting reward of immortality.  A young man with an unlived in face found his calling in the faces of a continent's forgotten people, and in so doing he not only saw history, but made it."    

I give this book 5 stars *****; a tragic tale that made my heart ache but taught me a lot of history and meanings of many Indian words.    
Back cover of the book