Tag Archives: War

March by Geraldine Brooks

If one were to ask my favorite childhood author, although a difficult choice, I would have to say Louisa May Alcott, specifically Little Women (although there are other of her novels which I also hold dear). There’s a reason I named by third daughter Elizabeth, though she’s a Liz or Izzy and not a Beth.

Perhaps I was responding to the authentic voice of the author. Certainly basing her novel on members of her own family brought a touch of normalcy to the words. Of course, as a nine year old I didn’t ponder these things, I only knew that I had grown to love each of the sisters, reveling in their interactions with one another and their struggles in their daily lives. I was also attracted to the time period and the formal language, so different than the common vernacular of Brooklyn in the 1960s. Jo’s love of books and writing was another draw, binding her to my heart in a way that few other literary characters managed to accomplish.

So when I discovered that the title of the book March by Geraldine Brooks was actually in reference to the absentee father in Little Women, I decided that this was a novel which needed to jump to the top of my “To Read” list. Although I had heard of March (after all it was published over ten years ago), at that time in my life the focus was on children’s books as I was working in an Elementary/Middle School Library. Luckily, a good book remains readable whether opened the day it’s published or years later, especially one which has been so thoroughly researched.

I can see why March won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 2006 due to the talent of Brooks who was able to successfully replicate Alcott’s style from the original novel. Bronson Alcott, a teacher not a preacher, was a fascinating man who obviously had a big impact on Louisa’s life. The chance to get a better glimpse of this individual, even via a fictional lens, is an opportunity not to be missed. Using the background of Alcott’s family (with a few poetic liberties) plus the details from Little Women set during the time frame of the Civil War, the reader gets a glimpse into the life of Robin (Father) March who is off at War throughout a major portion of Little Women. We get his young years as a peddler in the South, eventually becoming a preacher and settling in Cambridge where he meets his wife Marmee, with their abolitionist tendencies leading to his decision to meet the battle cry as a Chaplain at the age of thirty nine leaving behind his wife and four daughters.

Here we experience the conflict through March’s eyes with all the horror and inhumanity which war entails. We get the cleaned up version which he includes in his letters to his family, then the nitty gritty including the moments which he would rather forget but feels guiltily compelled to reveal. Occasionally there are reflections he shares which mirror the original work, but the majority of the story veers off into his own previously unreleased past. It’s not until Marmee gets the letter that her husband is gravely wounded that we begin a true parallel to Little Women as details from this book intertwine with her discoveries about her husband’s past. While most of March is from the father’s point of view, while he lays sick in the hospital, it is his wife who picks up the story and reveals the events leading up to his eventual return home to his daughters, including the gravely ill Beth.

While some of the actions of wartime made me squeamish, the realism of the story, along with memories of my childhood favorite, kept me engaged throughout the novel. That events which occurred at the beginning of March’s tale had an impact on later circumstances shows the talent of Brooks who was able to draw the entire contents of her plot full circle. The PTSD which infiltrates the protagonists being, makes one wonder about his future as a husband and father as even common events seem to bring up ghastly memories of his guilt ridden experiences from over the previous year, forcing him to live a double life, presenting an artificial front to hide his own internal conflicts. While not necessarily reflected in Alcott’s work, it gives the reader a new perspective into the inner workings of a patriot who has discovered that supposed “heroism” comes with a lot of baggage.

Five stars.

Advertisements

You Never Forget Your First Earl by Ella Quinn (The Worthingtons, #5)

Geoffrey, Earl of Harrington, is clueless. Being self centered and single minded he doesn’t notice what’s happening in the world around him – not unless it directly impacts him and sometimes not even then.

That explains why he was still courting Lady Charlotte Carpenter when she was publically engaged to Constantine, the Marquis of Kenilworth, whose romance appears in The Marquis and I, Book #4 of the Worthingtons series. Any chance Geoff had while wooing his first choice for a wife disappeared when he took off back home to visit an impatient father, the Marquis of Markham, who insisted on micromanaging his son’s London life. Now Geoffrey has just a few weeks to find a suitable bride, a requirement for his job as an assistant to Sir Charles Stuart. His mate must meet certain requirements if she is to accompany him to Brussels. After all, not only does a diplomat’s wife have responsibilities, she also must be somewhat pleasing to the eye (since Geoffrey wants to enjoy his husbandly duties). After reviewing the “short list” of eligible young ladies he sets out to “meet” them at the next ball where he ends up eyeing Elizabeth Turley, best friends with Charlotte. Elizabeth is actually attracted to the stilted, cocky Earl, even though she feels like she is being interviewed for a position instead of being courted. She doesn’t want to appear too eager or marry someone just for the sake of convenience – either his or hers. Unsure if Harrington will come up to scratch, her brother, Gavin, convinces his friend Lord Littleton to provide some competition. Now Geoffrey has to put some effort into what turns out to be a whirlwind romance. With the help of Grandmama and Cousin Apollonia, he “makes a cake of himself”, but Elizabeth is worth the effort. Their passion in the bedroom is a bonus which makes him even more desperate for the upcoming nuptials.

Everything seems to be going well until Elizabeth overhears Geoff talking with his father. She’s devastated to hear her new husband agree that she has all the qualifications necessary to be an excellent hostess, without any mention of the love they had just proclaimed in their wedding vows. So for the rest of You Never Forget Your First Earl by Ella Quinn, Elizabeth decides to withhold her affection from an oblivious husband who is baffled about what he’s done to offend his bride. However, neither has much time to contemplate their marital difficulties since there’s a war gong on, so the two must temporarily drop their differences and rise to the occasion. With a battle as a backdrop, their squabbles seem insignificant and the ultimate resolution, while overly dramatic, does provide a satisfying conclusion.

I have mixed feelings about this Regency Romance from The Worthingtons series (#5). Parts of it were fun (especially when Harrington and Littleton were fighting over Elizabeth), some parts dragged (too much repetition with both protagonists agonizing over their relationship), and some parts were filled with minutia. These little details, which would ordinarily have been annoying, were at times fascinating, as Elizabeth packed up an entire household complete with horses, conveyances, and servants and traveled to Belgium.

Then there’s that one-sided “spat”, where Elizabeth freaked out when Geoffrey didn’t proclaim he had feelings for her on that day she inadvertently eavesdropped. However, if she had thought about it, the idea of love was not something a son would necessarily confide in his dad, especially a domineering man like the Marquis. Her anger should have been directed on the fact that her competency was considered her best feature, as if she were a hired servant.

Elizabeth didn’t need to fret about her abilities because she was a whizz at any task thrown her way. Her talents went beyond her organizational skills, and included the ability to take charge during times of stress and then, mere hours later, appear beautiful and composed at a ball. All this at the tender age of eighteen – a little far fetched, to say the least.

For fans of The Marriage Game series, Geoffrey runs into Septimius Trevor at the solicitor’s office who asks him to touch base with Colonel Lord Hawkesworth while he is in Brussels and remind him to write home more often. While Quinn explores a few details about the battlefront, that is not her main focus, although the anger of the French locals at the interference of the British in overthrowing Napoleon, is well represented.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley who providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Isaiah’s Daughter by Mesu Andrews (Prophets and Kings series, Book 1)

Mesu Andrews has taken on the task of bringing the Old Testament Scriptures to life by intermingling factual accounts with fictional subplots to recreate the story of King Hezekiah and his wife, Queen Hephzibah. The tale begins in 732 BCE with five year old Ishma and her new found friend twelve year old Yaira being forced to march from Bethlehem to Samaria by the Israeli soldiers who killed their parents. Their relocation to Samaria is rejected and they find themselves as refugees headed towards Jericho where they are met by the prophet Micah, Yaira’s brother, who leads them both to safety in Jerusalem to become members of the household of Isaiah. Ishma, who has remained mute since witnessing her mother’s violent death, is able to assist King Ahaz son, Hezekiah, recoup from his own traumatic experience, blaming himself for his brother’s role as a living sacrifice to appease the gods.

The Profit Isaiah has been chastised for his prophesies predicting the wrathful Yahweh’s punishment against Judah due to the numerous false idols worshipped by his chosen people. His new task, a demotion, is to teach the young royals and other sons of the prominent members of court. Ishma, now a soothing companion to Hezekiah, joins the group, despite being a girl. Her perceptiveness makes her a good sparring partner in the discussions on God’s laws. The times are volatile, with Assyria demanding tributes and threatening war against the nearby communities. At twelve, Hezekiah begins his training as a soldier and eventually accompanies his father on the road as they negotiate with their enemies and try to develop alliances. Hezekiah, with the title of co-regent, carefully observes, adhoring, yet recognizing the ingenuity behind his vicious father’s actions. When given the chance, Hezekiah vows to destroy the pagan temples and return to Yahweh, the one true God. His childhood companion, Ishma, now adopted by Isaiah with the name of Hephzibah, becomes his Queen and they rule together attempting to broker a peace, despite the continued threat from the Assyrian Army.

Led by both biblical text and written history from this time period, Andrews’ Isaiah’s Daughter, the first in the Prophets and Kings series, successfully recreates the scriptures making them more approachable for the average reader. Each chapter begins with a biblical quote, many of them prophecies, from the books of Kings and Chronicles as well as Isaiah and the Psalms. There is an annotated list of names, indicating which are fictional and which are historical figures. The narrative text also includes some first person accounts, usually by Ishma, but other characters as well. A map of the area helps the reader visualize the locations of the numerous “frenemies”. While the main setting is Jerusalem, the conflicts bring the warring neighbors into the mix. Andrews takes her time developing the characters from their childhood antics into their role as rulers. A little more than halfway into the book the story slows down and tends to drag (which could easily have been resolved by eliminating the nonessential plot points), however, the astonishing chronicled events leading up to the climax are worth the wait.

This is a fascinating look into the scriptures, as well as a thought provoking perspective on the Middle East. Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Charleston by John Jakes

We read Savanah for last month’s book club and decided to focus on John Jakes other stand alone book, Charleston, for this month. What a difference. While Savanah was a fun little book (if you can call anything about the brutality of the Civil War fun), Charleston was a completely different sort of novel. Beautifully written, full of action, pathos, and, at times, pandemonium.

It begins with the family’s “founding father” in 1720 deciding to marry his pregnant girlfriend who agrees on the condition that he change his last name to something nicer sounding. Influenced by the sounds emanating from a church tower in Charleston, he decides on Bell. Fast forward to the Revolutionary War and the Bell family who own and manage the wharf along with several homes and have a well known reputation within the community. Enter Edward Bell returning from law school in England after hearing that his home town is going to be invaded by the British. His father sends him to escort his mother, located at their nearby summer home, to a safer location, but he is too late. Local men, loyal to the crown, take it upon themselves to loot and pillage the revolutionary friendly family, and Edward’s mom is shot in the stomach. This begins a feud between the two families which interweaves throughout future generations. It’s also the first of many violent deaths which permeate the plot. The Revolutionary War takes it toll on the members of the Bell family, but the widows and their children carry on into the War of 1812 where Charleston’s harbor is once again invaded. Strife continues as the political climate changes the focus of the landowners who insist on slavery, despite the laws that restrict the slave trade in the town. This leads to the Civil War which once again pits neighbor against neighbor. The Union eventually wins out (spoiler alert) and somehow the Bell family survives the mayhem of the Antebellum South, barely, with some hope towards the future of Charleston, South Carolina.

Mayhem is the key word. I chose to listen to the audio read by George Guidall, an abridged version, and there appeared to be an excess of deaths, mostly murders, although Mother Nature had her hand in some spectacular means of demise. This book would make a great basis for literary bingo, or better yet, a drinking tournament. The reader can’t help but be sucked up into the drama, rooting for their favorites, booing the villains (and there are a lot of those to hiss at). Jakes has a talent for creating vivid characters and a fast moving plot and in Charleston he has not lost his touch. Any of his series is a good bet for an excellent read, including this historical novel which contains real life events and personalities along with the fiction. Four stars. This review also appears on Goodreads.

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

Sarajevo, the Capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a modern European city with a rich history, the home of the 1984 Olympics, not to mention the location where the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was shot instigating the start of WWI. After the Soviet Union dissolved, Bosnia voted to became a separate nation, breaking off from Yugoslavia. Yet this newfound country was not without its problems with the various factions, including the Croatians, Muslims, and Serbs vying for power. Their disagreements became hostilities which led to war. This vicious conflict, whether or not one considers it a civil war, was a matter of genocide and mass graves, one found as recently as September 2017, leading the tribunal at The Hague to convict the perpetrators with a lifetime sentence for crimes against humanity.

One major battle during the Bosnian War was the Siege of Sarajevo, the longest siege in world history lasting from April 5, 1992 to February 29, 1996 – almost four years of deprivation. The forces stationed within the city were not well armed and forced to stay put by the snipers who surrounded the area. Civilians took their lives into their hands to venture outside their homes, although staying indoors was no better as shellings of mortar were commonplace, damaging over 90% of the buildings before the conflict was forced to a resolution by UN forces.

This is where The Cellist of Sarajevo begins, after a shelling in the midst of a group of people standing in line waiting for a handout of bread. Death had become commonplace to the city inhabitants, but twenty two deaths in one fell swoop was an anomaly. The dead were buried at the former stadium which had held the Olympics, now in rubble. One man felt called to respond to this tragedy, a professional musician who decided to return to the site of this mayhem for twenty two days to play his favorite piece of music, Albinioni’s Adagio, as a memorial for each of the victims. The author, Steven Galloway, has chosen to present a fictionalized version of this true event, reflecting upon the carnage of war by following the lives of three characters over a one month period. Kenan and Dragon set about their normal routines including the hardships and danger of finding water and food to sustain their families. One character, Arrow, has become an instrument of destruction using her talent as a natural shot to pick off the enemy soldiers who threaten the townsfolk. It is her task to make sure the Cellist survives and she sets about watching for a fellow sniper sent by the enemy to destroy this tiny bit of hope in a desperate situation.

This glimpse of War is frightening on many levels as through the characters eyes we witness the shamble of lives once full of joy, now reduced to survival at the most basic of levels. How could the world have allowed this to happen? And why do we continue to fight against one another in various conflicts, many also including genocide, throughout the world? These emotions are invoked by reading this short book, almost a novella, but jam packed with vivid details which will wring your heart to pieces. Five stars.

As a fotenote, the real cellist who this book was based on was angry that his actions appeared in this novel. Living in isolation, Vedran Smailovic’s deed was a private, personal one which he felt was not accurately reflected in the book. While the author interviewed many survivors of the siege to create a realistic dialogue, Galloway did not meet with Smailovic until after the book was published and only then to explain his cause. While the cellist wanted monetary compensation, the author felt this incident was in the public domain and thus fair game. Smailovic believes that the War in Bosnia should only be written about by those who had experienced it which brings us to the question, “Should an author’s writings be limited only to those events which reflect their personal experiences?” This, of course, is a ridiculous premise as whole genres would be eliminated from literature. Yet, when writing about historical events, the works should reflect an accuracy behind their words so as not to mislead the reader with a false narrative, despite the fact that the book is a fictionalized account. One must also consider point of view and interpretation, as a story from the vantage point of the army surrounded Sarajevo would have been a much different tale. Just something to think about.

Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian

Opening Blurb: Grandfather Kemal is found in a vat used to color the kilim rugs he sells, meaning he literally “dyed”.

Orhan’s Inheritance is the perfect title for Aline Ohanesian’s premiere novel about a young man, Orhan Turkoglu, who inherits the family business when his DeDe dies. His bequest is unusual since a father usually passes his property to his son, not his grandson, but the 1990’s are modern times even in Turkey. Yet traditions remain strong and Mustafa threatens to take Orhan to court and challenge what he considers a bogus will. It’s not that the father wants to run the family business, he’s never earned an honest days work, it’s just the principle. Orhan fears his father will either neglect the business or sell it and waste the money, negating all his efforts to create a successful company.

However, that is not the gist of the story. The most unusual aspect of the will is that the deed to their family home is to be transferred to 87 year old Seda Melkonian, an unfamiliar name belonging to an elderly women living in an Armenian Nursing Home in Los Angeles, leaving him, his father, and his aunt without their beloved residence. Seda is the key to Orhan’s true inheritance and he travels across the ocean, his grandfather’s sketch book in hand, to have this stranger sign papers so he can keep his childhood home in the family as well as discover the mysteries of his Dede’s past.

Bopping back and forth between present and past, the reader is exposed to the genocide perpetuated against the Armenians living in Turkey during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, when the Turks sided with Germany in World War I. The Armenian Death March, where able bodied men were murdered or imprisoned and women, children, and the elderly were forced to leave their homes and walk to the Syrian dessert, is prescient to the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis. Similar to the attitudes towards those of the Jewish faith, the Turkish people resented the affluence of their Armenian neighbors – angry at the fees they charged when lending money, angry that they were Christian instead of Muslim, angry that the women were seen in public without covering their bodies (wearing a bonnet was not enough), angry that their success make them feel somehow lesser. So when the Turkish Army took action, the populace remained mum, even though it was their former friends who were taken away and shot as traitors. They blamed it on the war where casualties are to be expected, but there is a difference between war and genocide, a fact that needs to be acknowledged when a population of 1.7 million is reduced to 300,000.

Based on the memories of the author’s grandmother, Orhan’s Inheritance gives us a glimpse into the mind set of those who live in Turkey, a modernized Middle Eastern country with one foot still in the past.

A thank you to Algonquin Books and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. 4 stars.

Savannah or A Gift for Lincoln by John Jakes

If you are looking for one of John Jakes sweeping sagas, then Savannah is not the book for you. This quaint little (by Jakes’ standards) Christmas story, if you can call any book set during Sherman’s March to the Sea “quaint”, Is a somewhat quiet interlude lasting from the newly established Thanksgiving, 1964, through a couple of weeks into the new year. Yes, there is looting and destruction by both Yankees and Rebs, but Savannah plays the perfect host, welcoming their enemies hoping to avoid the burning experienced by the neighboring city of Atlanta. Here we meet General William T Sherman, an unusual type of soldier, slovenly in appearance but determined to end this war once and for all.

Yet, Sherman is not the main event. This is the story of twelve year old Harriet and her widowed mother, Sara Lester, who are forced to leave behind their rice farm and move into Savannah when the fields are flooded by the rebs to help slow the advance of Sherman’s army. Moving in with her best friend, Mrs Vastley Rohrschamp (who both fears and secretly welcomes the idea of being somehow defiled by the enemy), the three women try to get by as best they can in times of uncertainty and poverty. Hattie, a headstrong, reckless young lady, is the main focus as she wages her own battle against the Yankees, even going so far as to kick General Sherman in the shins. His reaction surprises her, and afterwards she feels comfortable enough to ask him for assistance when the need arises. Still, Hattie admits they can never be friends since her heart belongs to Dixie and she cannot forgive the deaths of her father and others who were killed in the war.

There’s some violence, some love, some evil doers, and some kindhearted gentlemen looking out for the three companions. As I said, a sweet little wartime Christmas story.
This one was perfect for listening, with an abridged audiobook read by Dylan Baker.

Oh, and the subtitle “A Gift for Lincoln” refers to the telegram Sherman wired to President Lincoln on December 22nd with the message, “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.”

Three stars.