FROM MY READING CHAIR

Writing gurus have said over the years, “write what you love and love what you write.”  That comes easily for me for Historical Fiction is what I read and write. Of course I depart on both counts from time to time. I love a good mystery/suspense/adventure story or a biography, usually of  a writer.  Then, there are the mainstream novels I should read but barely get to a smidgen of them. Since this is my Blog, from time to time, I will share with you my impressions of books I read.  Today, it is a batch of historicals.

Child of the Northern Spring: Book One of the Guinevere Trilogy (Paperback) published (re-issue) 2010 by Sourcebooks, 545 pages

Persia Woolley has walked the walk in her research on King Arthur and his Queen Guinevere. She brings the times (6th century Britain) alive with poetical visions and imaginings of the people and characters of Camelot and its origins. Accurate in detail and filled with the tone, habits and customs of the day, we are thrust back into an historical time coated with mystery and mythology. More than this, Woolley develops stories of what might have been the early lives of Guinevere and Arthur, drawing on legend, history and extrapolations of her imagination. The characters come alive as people with strong feelings, dreams and hopes…and flaws. The reader is granted a glimpse into the strife, political and religious, that was the emergence of a united Britain. Woolley is, indeed, a gifted writer and Arthurian specialist. Sourcebooks is to be commended for re-issuing this wonderful trilogy.

Dina’s Lost Tribe (Paperback) published 2010 by iUniverse, 402 pages

Brigitte Goldstein holds a PhD in history and I am tempted to say it doesn’t show; by that I mean that her story is not a thesis, a lecture or dry accounting. It abounds with heart and the lyricism of poetry. The story is complex, weaving its way from the 13th to the 20th centuries. A secret village and culture hidden in the Pyrenees for centuries is gradually brought to light through the codes of its founder and the interpretations and fears of its successors. When historian Nina Aschauer seeks her mysterious birthplace, she meets the love of her life and fades from view. On finding Dina’s codex, Nina enlists the help of her scholarly friend Etoile and cousin Henner. The unraveling begins. Rich in the history of Judaism and of French culture, Dina’s Lost Tribe offers a unique worldview from an author well-versed in both…and captivating adventures well-told.

Clara and Mr. Tiffany (Hardback) published 2011 by Random House, 397 pages

Susan Vreeland gained access to a treasure trove of Clara Driscoll’s letters that reveal a 21st century truth about a 19-20th century icon. The amazing output of work that came from the Louis Comfort Tiffany studios nearly always carried his name with seldom a nod to other designers. The letters to her family came to light in 2005 and, with them, Clara Driscoll’s design history of Tiffany lamps and windows emerged. Vreeland has drawn a dynamic sketch of Clara, her loves, her skills and her turmoil. As she leads the Women’s Department strike for equity of wages with the Men, she is magnificent.  In love, she is tragic and vulnerable. In dealings with the genius who is her boss, she is both timid and brave. The book coats a vivid picture of the times as well as the characters.

The Shanghai Girls (Paperback) published 2010 by Random House, 314 pages

Lisa See writes passionately of her Chinese heritage no matter the era or place. In this, perhaps the darkest of her books, we see two sisters mired in the falsity of the glittering life that was Shanghai of the 1930’s. As “beautiful girls,” they are ill-prepared for their father’s fall into ruin or the invasion of the Japanese army; their arranged marriages to two “American-Chinese” helps them in their flight but confounds them in their new reality that is Angel Island and Los Angeles. This is a book of relationships, the ins, outs and twists of sisterhood, parenthood, marriage and extended family. As the book draws to a close, the sisterhood that has dominated the story evolves into a new understanding and depth. Can a sequel be far behind, one that marks the return to 1970’s China?

All of these books are available through Amazon or your favorite independent bookstore.

CLARA’S AIR

For thirty-five years, February has been National Black History Month.  Celebrations, rallies, and special events happen across the country in schools, parks, churches and other venues.  I wrote the poem, CLARA’S AIR, on a warm spring evening four years ago and it was published online by Janet Riehl on her blog site www.riehlife.com that summer. To commemorate the sacrifices, endurance and accomplishments of Black Americans, I offer it up again.

 CLARA’S AIR

 Old Mom-Mom told her,“it’s a track without a train,

a railroad running north and, sometimes, underground.”

In the dead of night,with more stealth than wealth,

they slipped onto the barque of a Louisiana swamp.

Three dark panthers melding into the shadows’ thin cover,

where a white man at the helm did hover.

Fear and quiet made the slither of pole on green water

seem to shout upon the wild river.

Near to dawn, they put in at land, there to await,the next helping hand.

In a slimy cave they rested, in Mom-Mom’s lap, Clara’s head softly nested

Sullied water and moldy bread,a wormy apple or bright berries,

it was on these they fed.

Night two or was it more?

Gators snapping as carefully they stepped in mud and gore.

Sounds of tiger growls rent the air,

when the tree snake reached down to dust Clara’s curly hair.

Dawn found them on a sandy beach,

here to hide and keep watch all day against the sound of dogs at bay!

When Clara’s feet began to bleed, Mom-Mom tore her turban

to wrap those tiny feet beyond the scent of any breed.

Night after night, they traveled on. Hiding again at first light,

always searching for guide or clue to carry them from all they knew.

Until Clara wondered at seeking more, hiding from the searchers,

 their dogs and gun, when hope itself had nowhere to run.

Hiding in cramped attics or soured hay, behind a secret wall,

under a bed or up a tree, caused them often to pray.

A thin soup, a crust of bread, an ear of corn to chew, where came the next meal, they seldom knew.

Drained of hope by pain and sorrow, their next stop caused them to burrow.

To Illinois-land they came, trackers’ hounds at their heels.

A house, a barn, a cellar, promised respite from their flight.

Thin, tired to the bone, with blistering feet and soul,

they fell into a restless sleep.

Awakened too soon and pressed below ground,

no light by which to see,  the shifting dirt drifted down.

Clara, Old Mom-Mom and the others, too,

huddled against a sudden outcry,when a critter ran across a foot,

fear doubled and took root.

On and on they sat in silent dream, thinning air adding to their sleep

sending them into a well too deep.

Clara shuffled close to Mom-Mom’s ear,

“Air’s there. See the mole mice at they’s mother’s teats?”

“Hush, child. You wants the mens to hear?”

Old Mom-Mom’s voice faded,her lungs stretched thin.

“Y’all gots to smell the air,” Clara wanted  to scream.

Tugging and pulling, she made Mom-Mom’s face fit the hole.

A gasp, another and then a whisper,“I declare, child, you’s right.

Dem moles is drinkin’ they’s mama’s milk, sure as we kin drinks the air.”

And so the time passed, each had the luck

to suck of Clara’s air until the last of the slave-seekers left.

The lid popped open from above and the whites declared,

“A miracle from God” that all still lived.

But, Old Mom-Mom and the others knew, it was Clara’s air

that saved the day and them, too.

FEBRUARY SOULFEST

Early February and the rains have stopped for a bit.

We race over the emerald hillsides

Watching feather clouds fan across the topaz sky.

Wildly strewn daffodils and fluttering acacia make my heart jump.

Gauzy yellow mustard stirs by the acre

Blanketing fields left fallow until spring.

Baby calf and lamb shins sink into the slurry mud in mama’s footsteps.

Skunky perfume of road kilt rodent

Disappears in gusts of ocean blown wind.

 Point Reyes Station announces itself with early morning coffee and muffins.

 I check at the bookstore for Larken’s book

And find it shining on the locals’ shelf.

 We move through cypress forests and historic farmland preserves.

 The ocean glistens in the distance and calls us

 To follow the risky trail to McClure’s Beach.

 Storm hammered nuggets of gold and silver line the long trail.

  Fool that I am I persist in the dream and hope

  For today’s peace to echo out to sea and beyond.

 We search through seashore debris to pirate our treasures.

 Baby brush and bottle nipple, soccer ball buoy,

 Tattered rope and plastic doodads float on sand.

 In the distance, splendid waves roar up on giant rocks,

explode

and return to their mother sea.