Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday Snapshots ...

There's still a great deal of snow in the Northeast... let that be said.

So much snow leads to indoor activities that become obsessive...

One has to fortify oneself with tempting foods ...

There always seems to be just ONE MORE snowfall to clean up after ...

It takes a lot of carbs to keep one's energy level stoked for snow shovelling.

Even Mimi looks forward to extra doggie treats after a snowy Frisbee romp.

Me? I look for color in a white world ...

... and dream of summertime flowers.

... shared at SaturdaySnapshots

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Flight of the Sparrow - Amy Belding Brown

“It is a solemn sight to see so many Christians lying in their blood, some here, and some there, like a company of sheep torn by wolves, all of them stripped naked by a company of hell-hounds, roaring, singing, ranting, and insulting, as if they would have torn our very hearts out; yet the Lord by His almighty power preserved a number of us from death, for there were twenty-four of us taken alive and carried captive.” - Mary Rowlandson

The captive narrative of Mary Rowlandson, redeemed prisoner of native tribes that fought for their land and lifestyle during King Philip's War, became an instant phenomenon when it was published in 1682. Mary was the wife of Joseph Rowlandson, pastor for the frontier settlement of Lancaster, Massachusetts. During the winter of 1675, the settlement was attacked by Nipmuck, Narragansett, and Wampanoag tribal warriors. The homes and barns were burnt, many of its citizens killed, and twenty four survivors were taken captive. 

Amy Belding Brown takes the bare bones of this horrific chapter of Colonial American history and builds a strong fictional account of Mary Rowlandson's voyage into the heart of native culture and back again. Brown does not 'gild the lily' by trying to write a romantic account. She honestly confronts the harsh forced trudge of the captives as they deny their wounds in an effort to survive the pace that their captors set, negotiate a new culture with the confusing babel of different tribes' languages, vastly different sexual politics, and confounding behaviors that can seem at one moment brutal and at another compassionate.

Mary loses one daughter on the forced march west and north toward the modern day New Hampshire/Massachusetts border and the Connecticut River valley. When Sarah dies, her body is buried by the natives in a show of respect to Mary's beliefs. Mary must move on, praying that her other two children are being treated well by their captors and that her husband, Joseph survived the attack and is working toward her release and redemption.

As time passes,though, Mary comes to be conflicted about her perceptions of the natives and their culture. She finds much freedom, even as a captive. She comes to value her connection to nature and the beauty of the natural world around her, and she values her burgeoning friendships with certain of her native captors and fellow 'slaves'. She questions God's purpose in placing her in the position of a slave and begins to see it as an awakening experience, meant to make her question the values and policies of her Puritan world. She worries how she will ever adapt to a return to English society should she be 'redeemed'.

This book is an excellent treatment of the captive experience that Rowlandson and others suffered during the great cultural clash between the colonizing and native cultures of the 17th century. Amy Belding Brown has taken historical fiction and used the genre well to bring a harrowing time to life for the reader, giving a thought-provoking take on a brutal time. It is obvious that she researched her topic well, as the novel closely follows events as written in the true-life account that Mary Rowlandson wrote of in her book called The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mary Rowlandson. That narrative was published in 1682. Belding's novel continues Mary's story after her ransom and brings into question the role of Increase Mather, the influential Puritan pastor and academic in its writing and publication. Mary's reversal of circumstances create an unsettling feeling within the reader ...she becomes the sparrow in the cage - once captive in a cage, set free during a chaotic clash, only to return to the cage at a later date. What to make of the sparrow's song? Hmmmm.

It left me wondering just how well Mary truly adapted when she did return to English society after her ransom was paid and she made her way home.

Post Note: I found this book so compelling because one of my husband's ancestors, one John Allbee, was a victim of the Mendon massacre of  July 1675, carried out by the same native tribes  that attacked Mary Rowlandson's Lancaster in February of that year. Benjamin and his grandson, John Allbee (the younger) fled the region and settled for a time near Rehoboth, Massachusetts before going north into New Hampshire and Vermont after the natives had been 'subdued'.  

Friday, February 20, 2015

Songs of Willow Frost - Jamie Ford

Jamie Ford's debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,was a good sell,but got mixed reviews. I read it and liked it so much that it got passed around my 'family reading circle'. Last week, I found his second novel, Songs of Willow Frost at the local library. The second novel returns to urban Seattle. This time he centers the story around the time of the Depression-era financial free fall and the rise of America's burgeoning film industry. His story centers around young William Eng, a young resident of the Sacred Heart Orphanage, who is turning twelve and still wonders when his mother will return for him. When he learns of the Hollywood actress Willow Frost's triumphant return to the stage in Seattle, he is sure that she is his mother. He sets out to see and speak to her. Thus begins a series of flashback chapters that tell of Willow's and William's sad lives.

This is a melodramatic story that gives an excellent snapshot of the prejudice within the Asian community of the time and in the larger American society - prejudice against actors, Asian-American citizens, the poor, and women. Liu Song, William's mother, compromises herself in many ways -by passively accepting 'her place' within her family, by changing her Asian name in order to become more acceptable within the theatrical world, by giving up her parental rights when she becomes financially strapped, and finally by losing her self-respect when she is confronted by a government child welfare officer who insists she return young William to his father. Sad circumstances, societal prejudice, government bureaucracy and misguided social policy destroys this small family.

Years later, there is a chance to make recompense, but will Liu Song and her son be able to survive after their reunion? That question is never answered and the reader is left to hang...and hope. Perhaps there will be a follow up novel that continues the story.

I wished Ford had knitted the strings of his story up with a more satisfying ending, but he did give his readers a good snapshot of Depression-era America, the beginnings of the movie culture that Hollywood cultivated, and the social and religious programs of the Progressive era that were misguided in their pompous practices that disregarded personal rights.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Landline - Rainbow Rowell

How do you know that you're on or off track in life? Life hums along at fever pace, especially once you hook yourself up with a special someone and especially when children appear to really mix things up good!

Georgie McCool is a woman who knows what she wants in life and goes after it with the skill of a master juggler. She keeps all the balls in the air - best friend/collaborator, successful comedy writing career, adoring husband, cute kids, California home, successful television sit-com ... until her single-mindedness falters. Then, she must try to figure out her life and her relationships. Time becomes a factor. Time zones, Time lines of her life. Time warps. Time deadlines. Holiday time.

This is such a clever story about a woman really stopping to think about and save something sacred to her. It's about loving and considering one's relationship with another person. It's about prioritizing. It's about taking chances. It's about working toward preserving what is good and right with one's life. It's about trying harder in love.

It's a really good (but weird) story.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Seven Days In the Art World - Sarah Thornton

What an interesting book!

Being somewhat obsessed by art, art museums, the creative process, and art history, I found this book really eye-opening. My reading made me aware of just how unaware I am about the actual goings on within the world of the art. Everyone has a different angle, it seems. When you walk into an art museum and see the work in the different galleries, what's there is a culmination of a series of deliberate wranglings by artist, agent, gallery owner, collector, museum trustee, curator, and yes, passive observer. All are wrapped up in this symbiotic relationship that serves to deliver 'ART' to the world. The decisions that every one of those players make help to set taste and aesthetic standards that reverberate around the world, hither and yon in an ever-changing see-saw of art shows, media events, gallery openings, museum exhibits, art auctions, fantastic thefts, news stories, social reactions, and new artistic avenues. Art is always in flux, always moving toward the next big thing, always reacting to society's thrum, always rubbing up against morals and politics and leaving paint stains or make-up smears or stone dust or film clippings for people to brush off. Look at. Laud . Ignore. Buy. Sell. Rant on. Art is all about action and reaction.

Sarah Thornton has a pretty good gig. She got to explore the different facets of the art world in order to give us a full face view of its players. Her take is like reading a cultural study in an anthropology class ... different social roles within a sub-culture get a section for exploration and discussion. When the book is considered as a whole, one gets a thought-provoking Gestalt to ponder.

If you are intrigued by the artist's world, check this book out. Highly readable, unintimidating, pretty complete in its scope, and NOT at all dry and didactic.