As has become my routine, my first blog of the month is about the books I read the previous month. I read a couple of good books in November, so I’m eager to tell you what I thought about them. As sometimes happens, more than one book with difficult topics presented themselves at the same time. This was a month of unpleasant topics, but the writing was excellent.
And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane
You must read this book! It is historical fiction at its best.
The name of this historical novel might be a turn-off for some people but, if you are a true fan of historical fiction, you must read this book. If you desire to learn more about the American Civil War, you must read this book. Vicki Lane has done a masterful job of weaving the story of the war in the mountains of North Carolina through the voices of five point-of-view characters.
This is a story that the history books rarely mention. If it’s mentioned, it is glossed over and allotted one sentence. I remember reading references in history textbooks such as, “Brother turned against brother” and “Neighbor turned against neighbor.”
Those descriptions of what actually happened in places like Madison County, North Carolina, don’t hold a candle to the depth of hate and evil that took place there. And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane, puts flesh and bones, horror, heartache, and names on such mundane statements that you’ll find in history books.
Ms. Lane’s novel is based on a true story, and four of her five main characters were real people. It is not pleasant reading, but it is artfully written. The suspense slowly builds until unspeakable evil takes place. And the Crows Took Their Eyes is the perfect title for this tale of hate and revenge.
Oh, how I wish I could write historical fiction like Vicki Lane does!
A Time for Mercy, by John Grisham
I listened to this latest legal thriller by John Grisham. Michael Beck always does an outstanding job reading Mr. Grisham’s novels for the audio editions. He outdid himself on this one with the numerous accents. And Mr. Grisham outdid himself with some gut-wrenching courtroom testimony.
A Time for Mercy gets into some tough subjects. A boy kills his mother’s abusive boyfriend. To give more details here would be revealing too much, and I don’t want to spoil the book for you. It is a gripping story with many layers. I highly recommend it.
Since my last blog post
I finished writing a couple of historical short stories. I now have five stories completed and six others in various stages of planning and researching. Maybe I’ll get a collection of short stories published in 2021.
It has been refreshing to spend more time writing lately. I realized that I am happiest when I’m writing.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Fifty Words for Rain, by Asha Lemmie.
I hope you have quality, imaginative, and satisfying creative time, no matter where your creative interests lie.
Wear your mask and try to stay well until we all get through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Today marks the 185th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Longhorn Clemens, who wrote under the pen name Mark Twain.
Mark Twain has been a favorite author of mine since my first introduction to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in elementary school. I loved the humor. I loved the honesty. I loved the way he wrote like people talked. Decades later, those are still the things I love about his writing. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is another favorite novel of his.
Years ago, I enjoyed how actor Hal Holbrook brought Mark Twain alive on the stage and TV. When vacationing in New York a few years ago, I enjoyed visiting Elmira, where Twain lived. There was a live portrayal of him there, which was excellent. I still have those memories and the plastic souvenir cup from my visit.
Perhaps even more than his novels, I like many of Mark Twain’s quotes. It was through his little snippets or sayings that his humor really came through. Here are a few of my favorites:
“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”
“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”
“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
“A person who won’t read has no advantage over the person who can’t read.”
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
“When your friends begin to flatter you on how young you look, it’s a sure sign you’re getting old.”
Since my last blog post
The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened here in the United States. I’m thankful for all the people who work in healthcare facilities and other essential workers who risk exposure to the virus every day so the rest of us can have the services we need. I’m fortunate that I can stay home most of the time.
I finished reading a splendid new historical novel by Vicki Lane. Get your hands on a copy of And the Crows Took Their Eyes. Don’t let the title scare you off, but be aware that the book is not about a pleasant subject. It is, however, masterfully written. It sheds light on a part of North Carolina history that has received too little attention in the history books. It brings to life the horrors of neighbors taking opposite sides in the American Civil War. I read it slowly and savored the writing. Look for more about this book in my blog post on December 7, 2020.
My sister and I had some productive time one day as we continued to proofread my manuscript for Harrisburg, Did You Know? Stay tuned for progress reports.
My root canal went well last Monday, and I was able to enjoy turkey, dressing, and gravy on Thanksgiving Day.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read and a challenging one to write, if you’re a writer.
Be creative. Find what you’re passionate about and make time to do it. Find a way to make a living doing it. I wish I had.
Thursday will be a different kind of Thanksgiving Day for most of us in the United States. It is traditionally a holiday filled with tradition, overeating, and relatives. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year we’ve been advised not to get together with people who don’t live in our household.
The passage of time has changed my Thanksgivings. I have no particular memories of Thanksgiving celebrations when I was young. When I was in elementary school, I learned about the pilgrims and how the American Indians shared their food with the European settlers. They gave thanks for surviving through the year.
I didn’t have living grandparents, so I have no memories of going “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go,” but I sang the song with my classmates anyway. That song comes to mind every Thanksgiving.
My mother didn’t like cooking a turkey, so we usually had chicken. The school I attended had an annual turkey dinner as the major fundraiser of the year on the day before Thanksgiving, so that was when we got to eat turkey and dressing.
When I was a teenager, my older brother and his wife lived out-of-state. They came home for Thanksgiving, and my sister and I gradually persuaded our mother to cook a turkey. My brother dictated that Thanksgiving Day was the perfect day for us to rake leaves. It didn’t matter how cold it was, it was on his list and he was here, so that’s what we did. It sort of turned Thanksgiving into a day to be dreaded instead of one to be looked forward to with great anticipation.
Then, there was the Thanksgiving my father was in the hospital for tests and that Saturday received his multiple myeloma diagnosis. The next day I had to head back to college. I didn’t know if he’d still be alive when I came home for Christmas. It was a bleak winter.
After my parents’ deaths, Thanksgiving took on a whole new look. Instead of our brother and his family coming here from out-of-state, my sister and I traveled to Georgia for the weekend. After one trip in grid-locked traffic on Interstate 85 that doubled our normal driving time, we decided to just stay in North Carolina for future Thanksgivings. It took us several years to find our new Thanksgiving tradition.
Several friends and relatives invited us to join them for their traditional 40-50 person Thanksgiving get togethers. I’m afraid we insulted some of them when we declined their invitations. We appreciated their efforts to include us, but we prefer a quiet day.
We discovered the all-you-can-eat Thanksgiving meal at a buffet restaurant. This was much easier and less stressful than cooking a turkey and all the go-with-its for two people. We’d found our new Thanksgiving tradition! It lasted two years.
This year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there are no all-you-can-it buffets. We are left to our own devices. Do we remember how to cook a turkey? Do we remember how to make cornbread dressing? And what about the giblet gravy? That was tricky even during the best of times.
Thursday my sister and I will sit down to a meal together and give thanks to God for all the many blessings He has bestowed on us all our lives. Like the early settlers in Massachusetts, we are thankful we’ve survived the year. We are more fortunate in material things such as food and shelter than most people in the world. We are blessed to live where we live and have all that we have. We are fortunate to have family living near and far away. We have friends. We live in peace and quiet. What else could anyone want?
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read, or a good book to write.
I hope you have enjoyable creative time.
I hope you have a nice day on Thursday, even if you live in another country and don’t celebrate Thanksgiving Day.
We can all be thankful that a Covid-19 vaccine will eventually be available and this pandemic will come to an end someday.
My blog last Monday started out in the fairly safe area of my take on three books I read (or attempted to read) in October, but then it migrated into the dangerous territory of the 2020 Presidential election in the United States. I probably lost a few readers over my comments, but maybe I gained some new ones. I said what was on my heart.
Today’s topic takes a lighter and less divisive turn. I had trouble settling on a subject for today’s blog post, so I turned to my friend Google for ideas. Among them were politics, religion, recipes, book reviews, inspiration, bacon, pets, self-help, and marital advice.
Since I wrote about politics and touched on religion last week, I immediately marked those items off the list. Even though I like to cook and love to eat, I’m trying to steer away from turning this into a recipe blog. I’m not a book reviewer; I just write my thoughts about the books I read. (Yes, there’s a difference. Book reviews should follow some rules; my comments never follow any rules.) I’m holding “inspiration” in reserve for a few more minutes. Next on the list is bacon. Now there’s a topic I could sink my teeth into. <groan!> Pets are near and dear to my heart, but I’m not sure you want to know that much about my dog. I’m not qualified to write a self-help article, and I’m certainly not qualified to offer marital advice.
That leaves inspiration.
Oh, I know! It’s autumn here in North Carolina. I hope you enjoy some photographs I took last week before several days of rain and flash flooding (thanks to Tropical Storm and formerly Hurricane Eta.)
The maple, hickory, sweet gum, and dogwood trees, and the sassafras sprouts in my yard have been gorgeous this fall! Maple trees are my favorite, but I also love the unique color that sassafras leaves turn this time of year.
This has been a year of way more than average rainfall here, and most of us have lost count of the tropical storms. So far, it’s been one of the warmest Novembers on record but, if the abundance of acorns on and under the oak trees are any indication, we’re in for a cold winter. Among the surprises this November have been four blooms on one of our Buttered Popcorn Daylilies and one of our camellias is blooming. The daylilies usually stop blooming by August and the camellias usually bloom in February or March. Here are photos I took on November 13!
Since my last blog post
The pain in my left wrist has been diagnosed. It will be in a brace for six weeks in an effort to avoid surgery. It’s 2020, so I couldn’t have expected anything less. On the bright side, it’s not my dominant hand.
I’ve worked for hours on a genealogy project. It mainly consisted of writing creatively about some relatives I knew and some I didn’t know. All writing is good practice for me, even if it’s not fiction. The brace slows down my writing and greatly increases my typing errors.
With the drama of the US Presidential election sort of behind us (well, not really, but enough is enough!), my sister and I got back to proofreading my Harrisburg, Did You Know? book manuscript. Proofreading 350 pages is tedious work. (Spell-check will catch only a fraction of your mistakes and can actually lead you astray.)
I spent several happy hours reading some old newspapers online and looking for tidbits about local history.
I enjoyed reading when I could catch time here and there, and I spent more time than I should have doing jigsaw puzzles on my tablet. I tell myself it’s good for my brain and hand-eye coordination. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
I listened to some uplifting music by Pentatonix, Peter Holmes, the Avett Brothers (from here in Cabarrus County!), Natalie Grant, and Whitney Houston.
Until my next blog post
Keep calm and carry on.
I hope you have a good book to read.
I hope you have creative time that brings you and others joy.
Thank you for wearing a mask to protect others during this Covid-19 pandemic.
It was coincidental that I read a book about the Bubonic Plague of 1665-66 and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic during the same month. Since the two books are about similar topics, I decided to blog just about them today.
The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, by John M. Barry
The title of this book is a misnomer. I tried listening to the MP3 version, which was almost 20 hours long. There was a brief introduction about the Influenza Pandemic of 1918, but the book soon started giving the history of medicine. I kept thinking we’d get back to the flu pandemic, but I gave up four and one-half hours into the book.
If you’re interested in the history of medicine, it’s an interesting book. I learned a lot about the state of the medical profession in the United States in the 1800s. It made me glad I was born midway through the 20th century.
Perhaps if I could have stuck with it, I would have learned more about the Influenza Pandemic of 1918. I stumbled upon an interview Jake Tapper of CNN did with the author, John M. Barry, a few months ago. Mr. Tapper raved over the book. The interview is quite interesting and makes me want to check out the book again and read on from where I left off. Here a link to the interview: https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/27/politics/interview-john-barry-great-influenza/index.html.
Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks
Year of Wonders is a novel set during the Plague of 1666. Geraldine Brooks was inspired to write it after a visit to England in 1991. She saw a sign about Eyam (pronounced “eem”) in Derbyshire, northwest of London. The sign indicated that Eyam was “the Plague Village.” Intrigued, this historical novelist delved deeper and began her research into the Plague.
I listened to the downloadable audio book, which was read by the author. The main character is a maiden named Anna who does her best to survive the pandemic and help others in the community. In reality, two-thirds of the people in Eyam died of the Plague. That’s a percentage that’s impossible for me to get my head around. The Covid-19 pandemic has been frightening enough.
The book gets into some of the superstitions of the era. Some people thought the Plague was punishment from God. They resorted to self-flagellation and burning all their clothes and possessions as a sacrifice.
Death via the Bubonic Plague is an excruciating way to die: Fever as high as 106 degrees F.; lymph nodes turned into dying, hemorrhaging tissue; and thrombosis. The World Health Organization reports 1,000 to 3,000 cases per year. Although rare, it still occurs even in the United States. It can be treated today with antibiotics, but there is no cure for Bubonic Plague.
After listening to the book, I borrowed the e-book from the public library so I could more easily reread portions of the book. In particular, I wanted to read the Afterword. I was happy to also find a Readers Guide after the Afterword in the Kindle edition. In fact, I’m temped to read such features as “Author Notes, “Afterwords,” and “Readers Guides” before reading historical novels in the future.
In Year of Wonders, the Penquin Readers Guide at the back of the book on Kindle is titled, “An Introduction to Year of Wonders.” It might have been more useful at the beginning of the book.
The “Introduction” tells how the Age of Enlightenment in Europe started in the 1600s. The human circulatory system was charted, bacteria were identified, and the compound microscope was invented. It was the dawn of modern medicine in many ways.
In the novel, a minister in Eyam in 1665, Michael Mompellion, decided that God had sent the Bubonic Plague to punish the village. He called for the residents to voluntarily quarantine themselves in their valley and suffer the consequences of their sins.
The most puritanical among them took to self-flagellation. As the situation worsened, the people turned on each other.
The heroine of the novel, Anna Frith, raises the existential questions circling around the origins of the plague. Anna surmised that if the villagers spent less time wondering why God was punishing them and more time trying to figure out how the Plague was spread, there might be a better outcome.
Anna said, “We could simply work upon it as a farmer might toil to rid this field of unwanted tare, knowing that when we found the tools and the method, and the resolve, we would free ourselves, no matter if we were a village of sinners or a host of saints.”
The word “resolve” jumped out at me. If we just resolve to do what we need to do to minimize the spread of Covid-19 until a vaccine or cure can be found, maybe we’d have a better outcome. Maybe we would stop turning on each other and stop making mask wearing a political statement.
In the “Introduction,” author Geraldine Brooks is asked about her research for the book. She answered, “The written record of what happened in Eyam during the plague year is scant. Apart from three letters by the rector, no narrative account from the year itself actually exists. The “histories” that purport to record the facts were actually written many years later, and historians have found inconsistencies that cast doubt on their accuracy. Therefore, there was no way to write a satisfying nonfiction narrative.”
The minister/rector in the novel, Michael Mompellion is based on William Mompresson, the minister in Eyam at the time of the plague. Ms. Brooks said, “There is nothing in the factual record to suggest that he behaved other than honorably throughout the village’s terrible ordeal.”
William Mompresson had a maid who survived the Plague, so Ms. Brooks chose her to be the narrator of Year of Wonders. Her inspiration for Anna Frith’s transformation from a probably quiet maid to becoming a leading force against the Plague were the Kurdish and Eritrean women she had reported on while a journalist.
In answering another question about her research for the novel, Ms. Brooks responded, “The unique thing about Eyam’s quarantine was that it was voluntary. I was able to find no other examples of such communal self-sacrifice. In London… the houses of plague victims were sealed and guarded, locking in the well with the ill, with no one to bring food, water, or comfort of any kind.”
The ending of the novel wasn’t believable to me. I decided to read some reviews of the book to see if others agreed with me. I discovered that the book has received many five-star reviews, but more than a handful of two-star reviews due to its implausible ending. Some reviews even suggest that you stop reading while you still think its an excellent book. Just skip the ending which transports Anna Frith from England into another country. The ending seemed contrived.
Since my last blog post
The transition from summer to fall temperatures, along with a day of tropical warmth and humidity thrown in thanks to the remains of Hurricane Zeta, has wreaked havoc with my fibromyalgia. (And people wonder why I have Seasonal Affective Disorder in the fall and winter!)
The limb that fell out of the oak tree in the front yard was so large and loud that a neighbor called to check on us. She said it sounded like a gun shot. We thought maybe it was another earthquake until the light from my flashlight revealed the source of the noise. That was the night before what was left of Hurricane Zeta ripped the top off one of our maple trees. It landed on top of the oak limb. That happened while we had gone to our basement out of an abundance of caution and waited out part of the five-hour power outage. Covid-19 pandemic or not, there’s never a dull moment.
As health, electricity, and motivation allows, my sister and I continue to proofread my Harrisburg, Did You Know? book manuscript. Recent computer corruption has caused us to proofread some 80 pages a second time. I haven’t figured out yet how five days of backing up to the external hard drive saved everything except the corrections made on those 80 pages. Two steps forward, and three steps back seems to be the way of things in 2020.
Until my next blog post
I will anxiously await the outcome of the elections here in the United States. Uncertain days lie ahead as baseless threats of voter fraud have been hurled from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue long before tomorrow’s election day. It remains to be seen how ugly things will get post-election. I’ve never had uneasiness like this on the day before a presidential election in America. We’ve never had a sitting president stir up unfounded doubts about our electoral process leading up to an election before in our nation’s history.
I hope you have one or more good books to read and peace and quiet that’s conducive to reading.
I hope your creativity will find a voice or other outlet this week. Find your passion.
Wear a mask! It’s a small thing we’re being asked to do for the overall public good.
Have you read either of the books I wrote about today? If so, what were your impressions of them? I’d like to know.
This may be the most unlikely topic addressed yet on my blog. Reading that the Erie Canal opened on this date in 1817 triggered a childhood memory of mine, and perhaps it will do the same for you.
One of the memories I have from elementary school is our class singing a song called “Erie Canal.” If you aren’t familiar with this folk song, you can go to YouTube and listen to Bruce Springsteen singing it. Yes! The Boss! It’s just a fun song about a man and his “mule named Sal” and their “fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.” It has a catchy chorus that we children liked to animate when we sang it.
As a child in North Carolina, I didn’t understand the importance of the Erie Canal. The canal was hundreds of miles away in New York. I’d never been to New York, and I didn’t have much of a concept of it at the time.
If you’re like me, you don’t know the history of the Erie Canal. Never fear. Today’s blog post isn’t going to give a detailed history of the canal, but it will hit the high points. I learned some interesting things about its current use and wanted to share that with you. Some of my readers live in New York or used to, so you probably already know all this. Let me know if you find any glaring errors.
When the concept of the Erie Canal formed
As early 1768 there was talk in New York of connecting the Hudson River to Lake Erie via a canal. The American Revolution delayed any such project.
In 1792, the New York legislature chartered a company to start the canal, but financial problems stymied most of the 363-mile project.
Fast forward to 1817. A study revealed that the Erie Canal would cost nearly $5 million. It would include 77 locks to accommodate the 661-foot rise and fall of the land over that 363 miles.
Ground was broken on July 4, 1817, for the section between Rome and Utica. It wasn’t until that central New York section of the canal was completed in 1819 that the state legislature approved funding for the rest of the canal.
The state was expecting funds from the federal government to make the whole canal possible. President James Madison vetoed the Bonus Bill, which would have given New York funds for internal improvements, on March 3, 1817. With that source of money gone, investors were sought to make up the gap.
The completed Erie Canal opened on October 26, 1825 – 195 years ago today. It opened up commerce from Lake Ontario and Lake Erie to the Hudson River and, therefore, to the Atlantic Ocean. It did wonders for the New York economy until the advent of the railroad. The St. Lawrence Seaway’s creation in 1959 further decreased the commercial need for the canal.
Is the Erie Canal obsolete?
My next question was, “Is the Erie Canal obsolete?” That led me to dig a little deeper.
That’s when I learned that the Erie Canal is still in operation, but only in the warm months. For instance, https://www.cruisingodyssey.com reported the following in an article on May 19, 2020: “The New York State Canal Corporation just announced the schedule for reopening the locks on the historic – and much-travelled – Erie Canal and the system’s other canals in the state. The corporation said it planned to have most of the locks open by July 4, but some may not open until much later.”
That online article continues, “The locks had been scheduled to open on May 15, but maintenance and repair work was stopped a month earlier due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown. That work included seven locks on the Erie Canal and one of the Champlain Canal.”
How can you enjoy the Erie Canal?
I gather from the information gleaned from the Internet that it is primarily used in the summer months today (the months when the water isn’t frozen) by people who enjoy cruising in their boats.
The website https://www.nps.gov/erie/index.htm is a good source of information about the Erie Canal’s history as well as the opportunities for enjoyment offered today by the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.
According to the May 19, 2020 report on https://www.niagara-gazette.com/, the Erie Canal bike tour was cancelled in 2020 but the annual ride is expected to return next July.
That led me to search for information about the Erie Canalway Bike Trail. A bike trail more than 350 miles long sounds wonderful! It goes from Buffalo to Albany, New York.
The website https://bikeeriecanal.com/ appears to be a good source of information for those of you who wish to add it to your “bucket list.”
Since my last blog post
My sister, Marie, is graciously helping me proofread my nonfiction book, Harrisburg, Did You Know? All 350 pages. I don’t even have to pay her!
I’m reading several books and taking notes for my November blog posts about them.
I’m counting the days until the 2020 political campaign ads disappear from our mail boxes, TV screens, phones, and all social media. Anyone with me on that?
Until my next blog post
I hope you have more good books to read than you can possibly read.
I hope you have satisfying creative time this week.
Continue to wear a mask and stay safe and well during this pandemic. For the sake of all of us, follow the science.
The American Revolution is akin to the story of David and Goliath. Who would have thought the 13 colonies on the edge of the American wilderness could defeat the most powerful country in the world?
After a hard-fought war of more than five years, Great Britain had to admit defeat. It must have been a bitter pill to swallow 239 years ago today.
Although the British, under the command of Lieutenant General Lord Charles Cornwallis, won the Battle of Guilford Court House in North Carolina in March 1781, they suffered 25% casualties. Leaving Guilford County, Cornwallis led his beleaguered troops to Wilmington, NC to recover and regroup. While there, he decided to head for the coast of southeastern Virginia. Upon arriving there, Cornwallis established a base on the York River at Yorktown.
American General George Washington instructed the Marquis de Lafayette, who was in Virginia, to take his Continental Army troops and contain Cornwallis’ troops on the Yorktown Peninsula until Washington could get there from New York with additional troops.
Various American and French troops began to converge on the Yorktown Peninsula, some defeating British troops in engagements along the Chesapeake coast on their way from points north. By October 6, 1781, American and French forces were in place and ready to attack the British troops encamped at Yorktown and on ships there.
The siege of Yorktown began under the cover of darkness on the night of October 15, 1781. Cornwallis requested terms of surrender on October 17.
On Friday afternoon, October 19, 1781, Lieutenant General Lord Charles Cornwallis led 7,000 British and Hessian troops down Hampton Road to Yorktown, Virginia to surrender to General George Washington, commander of the American and French troops.
The peace treaty officially ending the war and recognizing American independence would be nearly two more years in coming, but the war was over and the difficult work of establishing the United States of America as a free and independent nation could begin.
Since my last blog post
My writing was derailed by a computer issue that lasted five days. Proofreading Harrisburg, Did You Know? was not quite 25% complete when all my documents and email disappeared. I’m trying to learn not to panic when such things happen. I know everything is backed up somewhere. Proofreading the manuscript for the e-book will pick by up today. I have one more photograph to track down for the book, and I haven’t done the cover yet. I’ll keep you posted.
On a happy note, I voted last week. What a privilege!
Until my next blog post
I hope you have at least one good book to read for pleasure.
No matter what your vocation or hobby, I hope you have a productive week.
The Covid-19 pandemic continues to worsen in many parts of the world and the flu season has started here in North Carolina. Please wear a mask out of respect for other people, and please take all possible precautions to avoid catching the virus and passing it on to others. We’re all in this together!
My blog last Monday was about Code Talker, by Chester Nez. Here’s the link to it: Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez. Today’s post is about the other books I read in September. I hope you’ll find at least one that is of interest to you.
Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult is known for tackling hard issues. Leaving Time is about a young woman’s search for her mother who has been missing for 10 years. Jenna was three years old when her mother disappeared, so she is surprised to learn that her father never filed a missing person’s report. Her father is now in a facility for patients with dementia, so he’s not able to give Jenna any reliable answers.
Jenna’s mother was a well-known elephant expert, so Ms. Picoult deftly weaves into the story facts about elephants’ memories and grieving rituals. After piecing together the death of an unidentified woman coinciding with the time her mother disappeared, Jenna tracks down the former police detective who worked on the case. The case was never solved. The former detective reluctantly agrees to help Jenna.
Jenna eventually seeks the help of a psychic. The psychic is also reluctant to help the 13-year-old Jenna because her gift of “second sight” has waned. It turns out the psychic has her own backstory.
Leaving Time was published in 2014. It is not one of my favorite Jodi Picoult novels. I listened to it on Playaway from the public library while I walked each day. That’s probably not the optimal way to listen to any book, so my mode of listening possibly influenced my less-than-stunning impression of the book.
Last Mission to Tokyo: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raiders and Their Final Fight for Justice, by Michel Paradis
This book was recommended by John Grisham, and that influenced my decision to read it. I listened to about 25% of it and put it aside. I found it difficult to follow on CD, so then I checked out the e-book. It was much easier to keep up with the various characters, especially the ones with Japanese names.
The early part of the book is quite interesting. It is the story of the Doolittle Raiders in World War II and how Doolittle and his “raiders” worked tirelessly to get the B-25 bombers down to a low enough weight and high enough speed that they could launch off an aircraft carrier with just enough fuel to complete their bombing missions in Japan and get to China where Chiang Kai-shek had promised them a landing strip.
That part of the book really grabbed my interest, but I soon discovered that the bulk of the book was about the trials of the Japanese who tortured the captured Doolittle Raiders. That didn’t interest me as much, although I can see how it would keep an attorney like John Grisham spellbound.
I don’t mean to leave a negative response to this book. It’s merely a matter of interest. It is an extremely well-researched book. There are more than 100 pages of footnotes.
If you’re not familiar with the heroics of the Doolittle Raiders, the early part of the book gives an excellent overview of their training and what they accomplished against all odds.
The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel
Kristin Harmel’s new novel, The Book of Lost Names, was “right down my alley.” It is a beautifully-written historical novel inspired by the unsung heroes in France and Switzerland during World War II who risked their lives to try to smuggle Jewish children and adults out of France and to freedom in Switzerland as Germany was relentless in rounding up Jews for forced labor and the gas chambers.
Ms. Harmel has done extensive research about the World War II era, and this is evident in her writing. In The Book of Lost Names, she weaves a story of intrigue and personal loss through the protagonist, Eva Traube Abrams. I liked Eva from the beginning and pulled for her throughout the book. (As a writer, I strive to create such a protagonist!)
The personal losses Eva endures are huge and every time you think she’s going to find happiness, there is another twist in the story. She inadvertently of falls into the role of forging government documents for herself and other Jews while she and her mother are in hiding.
Eva works tirelessly to perfect her skills. In the process, though, she is driven by the need to leave a record of the children’s real names. Many of them are too young to remember their true identities or the names of their parents.
Eva and her fellow-forger, Remy, develop a code through which to record the children’s names in an old nondescript book on the shelf in the secret church library in which they do their work in a tiny French village hidden in the mountains. Eva and Remy use the Fibonacci sequence to code the names in the pages of the book.
Eva and The Book of Lost Names will stay with me for a long time. I love historical fiction for the way it entertains and educates me.
It was coincidental that I read Code Talker, by Chester Nez and The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel during the same month.
One by One, by Ruth Ware
This is the fifth novel I’ve read by Ruth Ware, a British author. She is a modern-day master of suspense. In fact, David Baldacci has called her “The Agatha Christie of our generation.”
In One by One, Ms. Ware gives us a 21st century story of office colleagues going on a weeklong retreat at a French ski resort. There’s a snowstorm. There’s an avalanche. Communications are down, which is ironic because these people work for a tech startup in London.
The relaxing retreat is immediately thrown into chaos when a shareholder proposes a buyout. Tensions grow as rescue grows more and more unlikely. It’s cold. Food is running out. And the retreat participants are knocked off, one by one. Can you figure out who the killer is? #OfficeRetreatGoneBad
I was a little disappointed in this book, but I’ll read Ruth Ware’s next novel anyway. Since I wasn’t enthralled by three of the five books I read in September, perhaps it was my frame of mind and not the quality of the books that is to blame for my less-than-stellar impressions of the books.
Since my last blog post
I’m rounding up the photographs to include in my book of local history newspaper articles, Harrisburg, Did You Know? A couple of pictures and the cover are all that are still to be done to complete this book of historical tidbits from Township One and Harrisburg, North Carolina.
Instead of becoming more accustomed to my new daily schedule due to my dog’s diabetes diagnosis, it felt like all my fatigue caught up with me this past week. To quote a Pennsylvania Dutch saying, “My get up and go got up and went.”
There are many projects vying for my attention, but I am tired and I lack motivation. I think I’ll blame the pandemic. I think most of us have pandemic fatigue. Those of us living in the United States also have political campaign fatigue.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read.
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have satisfying creative time this week.
Now that flu season is coming to the northern hemisphere in addition to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic, please wear a mask. Not wearing a mask shouldn’t be a political statement; it merely tells me that you really don’t care about anyone but yourself. I’m probably “preaching to the choir” because the people who refuse to wear a mask because of their political or religious convictions probably don’t read my blog.
I read five books in September, but Code Talker, by Chester Nez made such an impression me that I decided to just write about it today. I’ll blog about the other books I read last month in next week’s blog post.
Code Talker, by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila is a wonderful book! It is a memoir written by one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. The irony is that a language the US Government tried to eradicate ended up saving the US in World War II.
Navajo “Right Way Balance”
Early on in the book we’re told that Mr. Nez was a staunch believer in the traditional ways and beliefs of the Navajos. In the core of those beliefs is the “Right Way Balance” which calls for a balance between individuals and between the individual and the world.
Even though the United States government tried to take the Navajo culture and language out of him from an early age, his family ingrained in him the language and all aspects of their culture and heritage. Although the United States government and policies inflicted on the Navajos and other native peoples should have made him bitter, after December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, he was eager to join the Marines and fight for his country.
Mr. Nez tells about his childhood. He tells that his mother was one of the Navajo forced to march 350 miles from Fort Defiance to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. That was after they’d been burned out and forced to surrender to Kit Carson and taken to Fort Defiance.
Mr. Nez writes about the Great Livestock Massacre, which he witnessed. That incident alone, should have made him hate the United States government. It was the gruesome slaughter of millions of sheep and cattle belonging to the Navajo.
When he was forced to go off to boarding school, a missionary told the school administrators that his name was Chester Nez. He was no longer allowed to use his clan’s name. He tells about being made to learn English and to speak only that language at school. This was seen as an insult and a punishment at the time; however, without a fluency in both languages, he couldn’t have become a Code Talker. All the Navajo Code Talkers had to be fluent in both languages in order for the project to work.
The Unbreakable Code
There were skeptics, but time after time the Code Talkers proved their inestimable value in the United States’ war effort against Japan. The outcome of the war in the Pacific theatre was very much in question the Navajo Code Talkers arrived on the scene. They went through intensive training in complete secrecy from their fellow Marines and the public. Developing the code was totally up to those 29 men.
The Japanese had been able to break every code the US military had tried. The situation was becoming desperate. The Battle of Savo Island was the worst defeat in the history of the US Navy. The Marines on Guadalcanal figured they were next. They felt like sitting ducks. But the Navajo Code Talkers arrived with the 1st Marine Division and the prospects for the US began to change for the good.
Mr. Nez tells about the old “Shackle” code, which “was written in English, encoded via a coding machine, and sent. Then the receiving end decoded the message, again via machine, and wrote it out in English. It took an hour to transmit and receive the test messages. When the same messages were transmitted and received in Navajo – with the men themselves acting as coding machines – it took only forty seconds for the information to be transmitted accurately.”
The above quote minimizes the complexity of the Navajo Code, but I hope you will read this book and find out the intricacies of how the code was developed. The training for the code talkers was intense. It was astounding how complicated, accurate, and fast the Navajo Code worked. It, no doubt, saved the lives of thousands of American military personnel.
All Over the Pacific
Mr. Nez’s book follows his service on New Caledonia, Guadalcanal, Bougainville, back to Guadalcanal for additional training for the planned assault on Guam, then on to Guam, Peleliu (a battle that General Roy Geiger called the worst battle of the South Pacific), Angaur (where some Navajo Code Talkers were loaned to the Army), then “back to the bloodbath on Peleliu,” and then back to Guadalcanal to train for Iwo Jima.
The description of the maze of underground tunnels filled with Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima filled Mr. Nez with dread, but the surprise of his life came when his name was called. He was informed that he had “made his points.” Marines were “awarded points for each island invaded and wrested back from the Japanese.” He had earned more than enough points to be sent home.
After the War
Returning to the US was another bit of a culture shock for Mr. Nez. He was a proud Marine and war veteran when he returned to the US in 1945 but, because he was a Native American, he wasn’t granted the right to vote in New Mexico until 1948.
He was sworn to secrecy about what he had done in the war. He was sworn to secrecy about the Navajo Code Talkers. His family would have been so proud of what he had done in the war, but he could not tell them. By the end of World War II, 400 Navajos had served as Code Talkers. Thirteen of them were killed in action.
The last third of the book is about Mr. Nez’s life after World War II, including the nightmares he had about Japanese soldiers and what finally made them stop. The Navajo Code Talkers’ Dictionary is printed in the book’s appendix.
Information about the Navajo Code was declassified in 1968. The military decided they wouldn’t need to use it again. At last, the Code Talkers were free to talk about what they did in World War II.
Since my last blog post
Formatting my Harrisburg, Did You Know? collection of local history newspaper columns was intimidating, but I’ve been surprised at how smoothly it’s going. I’m adding photographs today. I can’t wait to have the e-book ready to publish! Then, I’ll work on the paperback edition!
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I suggest you try to find a copy of Code Talker, by Chester Nez.
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time.
Thank you for reading my blog. We all have busy schedules, so I appreciate the time you took today to read this blog post.
Please wear a mask out of respect for others during this Covid-19 pandemic. You could be contagious and not know it.
When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I thought anything that happened in the 1800s was ancient history. It’s amazing how age has a way of putting things in perspective. As I was reading about Chief Joseph in preparation for writing today’s blog post, I was struck by the fact that the conflicts between the United States government and the Nez Perce Native Americans took place a mere 68-76 years before my birth.
Since I’m 67 years old, the number of years weren’t lost on me. It was only 49 years before my birth that Chief Joseph died on September 21, 1904. As I read various sources about Chief Joseph while researching today’s blog topic, in addition to putting the time frame in perspective, I was struck all over again with the fact that the United States government has always treated Native Americans horribly. Period.
Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt was popularly known as Chief Joseph. His tribal name translates into “Thunder Rolling in the Mountain” in English. He succeeded his father as a leader of the Wal-lam-wat-kain band of Nez Perce Native Americans. The Wal-lam-wat-kain lived in the Wallowa Valley in present-day Oregon.
Chief Joseph sought peace and wanted all people to live in harmony. The United States government didn’t share his philosophy of life. He tried repeatedly to come to a peace agreement with the federal government.
Background history – Chief Joseph’s Father
White settlers began settling in the Wallowa Valley around 1850. Chief Joseph’s father was the tribal chief at the time. He was welcoming to the intruders at first, but as their numbers grew they encroached onto more and more of the valley. When Chief Joseph (the elder) told the settlers they could take no land, the settlers took it by force.
As tensions grew, Governor Isaac Stevens of the Washington Territory created a council to try to establish peace. Through that council, the Treaty of Walla Walla was signed in 1855 by Chief Joseph (the elder) and the chiefs of nearby tribes. The treaty created a 7-million acre reservation that included the Wallowa Valley.
The treaty worked fairly well until a gold rush drew more settlers into the reservation land in 1863. A second treaty was signed, but it heavily favored the white settlers. The original 7-million acre reservation was whittled down to only 700,000 acres. The icing on the cake was the removal of the Wallowa Valley from the new reservation boundaries and all the affected tribes were forced to move to Idaho.
Some of the Nez Perce tribes accepted the terms and moved; however, Chief Joseph (the elder) and some others refused to go. The second treaty was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Chief Joseph (the elder) denounced the United States, even throwing away his Bible and burning the American flag. (He had adopted the Christian faith after visits by missionaries and was baptized and given the Christian name “Joseph” in 1838.)
What the US government never understood was the value the Native Americans put on the graves of their ancestors.
“Inside this boundary, all our people were born. It circles the graves of our fathers, and we will never give up these graves to any man.” ~ Chief Joseph (the elder)
Before Chief Joseph (the elder) died in 1871, he said the following words to his son in preparation for his succeeding him as tribal chief: “Never sell the bones of your father and your mother.”
The younger Joseph becomes Chief
More settlers arrived and tensions grew. Chief Joseph (the younger) was threatened with physical violence, but he always responded verbally. He held onto the hope that his people could stand their ground and outlast the white settlers. He knew if he retaliated with violence, the US government would wipe out his people. He couldn’t risk getting violent.
A third treaty was drawn up in 1873. It gave the Wallowa Valley back to Chief Joseph’s people. The treaty was broken four years later and US Army General Oliver Otis Howard set out to forcibly remove the Nez Perce from their lands. Chief Joseph (the younger) offered Gen. Howard a compromise. The Nez Perce would give up part of their land and some of them would leave.
When the two men were unable to come to an agreement, Howard gave the Nez Perce thirty days to vacate their lands. To not comply would be considered an act of war against the United States.
The Nez Perce War
Chief Joseph quietly moved his followers across nearly 1,200 miles, while other Nez Perce tribes chose to stay behind and fight. Chief Joseph’s people were able to avoid armed conflict with the US Army for the most part, but violence ran against the chief’s core values to the point that he couldn’t bear to see his people suffer any more. Even though Chief Joseph tried to avoid fighting the army, the conflict became known as the Nez Perce War because other tribes within the Nez Perce chose to fight.
On October 5, 1877, Chief Joseph surrendered to Gen. Howard. The speech Chief Joseph made that day is remembered to this day and often quoted:
“I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say, “Yes” or “No.” He who led the young men [Olikut] is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are — perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.” ~ Chief Joseph, October 5, 1877
The rest of the story
Chief Joseph and his followers were put on rail cars and taken to Oklahoma. Many died there from exposure to the elements and diseases they’d never been exposed to before. Getting nowhere talking to army generals, Chief Joseph went to Washington, DC and met with President Rutherford B. Hayes.
He pleaded his people’s case with the president, but there was not immediate resolution of the conflict. It was six years later that Chief Joseph and his followers were split up. Some were sent to a reservation near Kooskia, Idaho. Some were sent to northern Washington Territory. But Idaho and the reservation in northern Washington weren’t their homeland. Their homeland was the Wallowa Valley in northeastern Oregon.
In 1897, Chief Joseph returned to Washington, DC to try again to get permission for his people to move to the Wallowa Valley. He never quit trying peacefully to get permission for his people to return to their homeland.
Chief Joseph died 116 years ago today on September 21, 1904. His physician said Chief Joseph died of a broken heart.
No one can argue with that.
If the United States government authorities had just adopted Chief Joseph’s philosophy of life, our country’s history would be quite different. A lot of conflict, bloodshed, and misunderstandings could have been avoided.
Since my last blog post
I was saddened by the death on Friday by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She will go down in history as one of the most-gifted legal minds to ever sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.
I’m formatting for self-publishing the 174 local history columns I wrote from 2006 through 2012 for Harrisburg Horizons newspaper. I hope to get the book published this year in electronic form and paperback.
Until my next blog post
Thank you for reading my blog. Everyone is busy, so I appreciate the time you took to read my post today.
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel.
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have satisfying creative time this week.
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, please wear a mask to protect the people around you. Even if you’re not displaying any symptoms of the virus, you could be carrying it and infecting others.