I read a somewhat odd combination of books last month. I’m sharing my thoughts about them in today’s blog post.
The Last Green Valley, by Mark Sullivan
This historical novel is based on the story of a real family. In light of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine, I think this was the perfect time for me to read it.
With the backdrop of the history of the Holodomor (“The Horror”) of 1932-33 during which Joseph Stalin starved to death more than four million Ukrainians, the book demonstrates a deep-seated anger between Russia and Ukraine. After World War II, Stalin sent millions to work camps (including many to Siberia) and they were never heard from again. This history puts this year’s Russian invasion of Ukraine in perspective. No wonder Ukrainians would rather die than live under Putin’s thumb! They’ve tasted freedom, and they aren’t going back!
During World War II, Ukrainians were caught between Stalin and Hitler. That is where The Last Green Valley begins with the Martel family.
The Martels are of German ancestry and they live in Ukraine in the early- to mid-1940s. They’ve survived Stalin’s attempt to starve them. Now, World War II rages on and the Martels are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Do they take their chances with Stalin’s Russian Army or do they trust Hitler’s troops to guide them safely out of Ukraine? They choose the Germans and there begins the family’s horrendous trek across Ukraine, Hungary, and Poland.
This book is a novel of the human spirit, faith in God and in our fellow human beings. It is also a book of man’s inhumanity to man. In the end, it is also a story of the dream called America.
The book’s “Afterword” will refresh your memory about Ukrainian-Russian history.
You might recall that I read Mark Sullivan’s novel, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, in December 2019 and blogged about it on January 13, 2020: The Other Books I Read in December 2019. I tried listening to The Last Green Valley last May and wrote about that experience in my May 14, 2021 blog post, 3 Books I Tried to Listen To in May. I found reading it to be a much better experience than trying to listen to it on CD. It’s great to have options.
Finding Me: A Memoir, by Viola Davis
I rarely read a memoir, but I was drawn to Finding Me: A Memoir, by actor Viola Davis. I’ve admired her acting talents since seeing the movie, “The Help,” or perhaps before on TV, but I had no idea how bad her childhood was until I read her new book.
Ms. Davis grew up in a poor, abuse-filled home in a predominantly white town in Rhode Island. Her father regularly beat her mother and the children were unable to shut out the noise of those beatings. There were rats in the house they rented and extensive times when there was no electricity of hot water. She writes about how hard it is for a poor child to compete in school when they have no way to stay clean and they’re always hungry. These are things I’ve never faced in my entire life. I’m incredibly blessed.
A few key teachers, mentors, the Upward Bound program, and her first taste of theater pulled Ms. Davis out of that deadend environment and enabled her to see where her talents lay. And we are all now reaping the benefits of her incredible journey.
She writes about the racism she experienced in Rhode Island and New York City. She was accepted at Juilliard in New York City, where they tried to train all acting students to be white actors. There was only other other Black person in her class at Juilliard and only 30 Black students in the entire student body of 856 (all disciplines.)
The students at Juilliard were forbidden to perform anything but opera, ballet, and the European classics. They were told singing Gospel music, playing jazz, participating in tap or modern dance, etc. would “ruin your instrument.”
Ms. Davis writes about a life-changing and life-affirming experience she had after her second year at Juilliard when she was awarded a scholarship to travel to The Gambia with a group led by Chuck Davis, an African dance choreographer out of the North Carolina School of the Arts.
She continued two more years at Juilliard and graduated from that prestigious fine arts school, but her heart and soul were opened by the beautiful innate talent she saw and heard in The Gambia, and it was really through that experience that she found herself.
In later life, her father got himself under control and Ms. Davis was able to have a loving relationship with him and her mother that she had been denied as a child.
The Rowan Story, 1753-1953: A Narrative History of Rowan County, North Carolina, By James S. Brawley
I was delighted to be able to check out a copy of this book from the Cabarrus County Public Library. It contains many tidbits of information that will enrich the historical novel I’m writing.
The novel I’m writing now actually comes before the one I wrote first. Now, Book One is Book Two, since the one I’m working on now needs to be Book One. I got so involved in imagining the backstory for the first one I wrote, I decided that backstory needed to be a book of its own. Will either book ever be published? That remains to be seen, but I enjoy the process of writing and doing the research.
What does any of this have to do with Rowan County? In Book One, Sarah and her brother and their father leave the mountains of Virginia and travel down The Great Wagon Road. A stopover in Salisbury in Rowan County turns into the family settling down there. Book Two finds Sarah living in The Waxhaws settlement in Lancaster County, South Carolina.
Slow Dancing with a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer’s, by Meryl Comer
This is probably the saddest book I’ve ever read. At its publication in 2014, the author’s husband had had early onset Alzheimer’s Disease for nearly 20 years. He was diagnosed at the age of 58 and had been a physician and medical researcher at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, DC.
The author is an advocate for more research into Alzheimer’s Disease and is pushing for more studies of people before they show signs of the disease. Her hope is that such studies will help researchers to discern how to diagnose the illness earlier – while the patient can still have a good quality of life.
She writes in detail how the disease not only destroyed her husband’s life and stole his personality, his ability to control bodily functions, his ability to talk or communicate in any way, his ability to swallow except for droppers of water, etc. She also details the care she provided 24/7 and the caregivers she hired to assist her. The toll it took on her was incalculable.
I’m glad I read it. When I started reading it, I thought it would be a book I’d recommend to my family members who are dealing with the early stages of the disease in their mother. By the time I finished the book, I thought their reading it would only be profoundly depressing at this early stage in their journey.
An online search revealed that the author’s husband died in 2020.
Since my last blog post
I took a week off from writing my blog last week. Since my last blog post of May 23, there was yet another mass shooting in a school in the United States. This one was in Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. In addition to two teachers, 19 precious children were massacred.
We have to find the courage to stop the madness in the United States of America. Until the National Rifle Association and its clones/wannabes stop financing political campaigns, nothing will change. Until elected officials on Capitol Hill and in the state legislatures develop backbones, nothing will change. Their “thoughts and prayers” ring hollow.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have at least one good book to read or write. I received a complimentary copy of the hot-off-the-presses 3rd edition of LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens. I look forward to reading this edition and seeing the changes Ms. Givens made from an earlier edition I read.
Find time to relax and enjoy a hobby.
This afternoon I’ll watch/listen to the fourth in a series of four free webinars about writing a book proposal offered by Chad R. Allen. The three sessions so far have been very helpful.
Remember the people of Ukraine and the people of Uvalde, Texas.