I ended this book with very mixed feelings - it was riveting enough to keep me from being productive around the house, it is masterfully narrated by great readers, and it certainly debunks the myths of the noble plantation master.
But there were several plot lines that stretched credulity - that a white child (indentured servant) would be so readily trusted throughout a slave community in an unstable household, that this child could grow up to tempt marriage offers from two members of the landed gentry of the area (a simple farmer, yes, but to see Virginians crossing class lines is hard to believe), and that this same individual could miss facts right under her nose and keep silent about other crucial facts for decades.
One reviewer described it as a Gothic novel - and that it is, combining alcoholism, pedophilia, laudunum addiction, sadism, lots of melodrama around lost children and parents, a Bronte-like house fire, and a heroine who maintains her purity of spirit throughout the perils that await her. You can almost envision her tied to railroad tracks.
And although the main protagonist certainly suffers from the dastardly deeds at the hands of her own Simon Legree, it is difficult as a listener to feel much compassion for her since what's happening to the slaves on this plantation is far worse and somewhat glossed over by the way the author keeps having them bounce back from being victimized by extreme brutality to resume their roles as sad-but-wise-and-loving house servants. The author waxes between fascinating and believable detail (field slaves stealing boards from the smokehouse to boil to get salt into their food) and hackneyed stereotypes of a mammy. I ended up giving Grissom credit for trying to be honest about slavery and forgave her the fall into stereotypes, but other readers might not.
It is hard to believe that less than 75 years ago, all of Europe was under fascist rule - except for tiny England and Stalin-led Russia. Most of the western "civilized" world were under authoritarian rule that used violence and thought oppression to stay in power. Follett's well-drawn characters help us connect personally with the cost of this tragedy.
As in the first book, Fall of Giants, Follet does a great job making complex political relationships seem real and tangible through their impact on characters in the book. The characters are deeper and richer in this book than they were in the first book - its easier to empathize with all of them.
A couple of things stretched credulity - the illegitimate son who manages to be on the ship with Churchill and Roosevelt AND in the bowels of the Manhattan project, but you forgive Follett because you want to know what's going on. I appreciated how clearly life in Nazi Germany was portrayed - the decade before the war was really harsh, and Americans often don't understand this aspect of the Nazis before we finally got involved. I thought his treatment of America before Pearl Harbor was a bit gentle; he let us off pretty easily given that our government knew about the Holocaust for years and did nothing. It was fascinating to see the role the Catholic Church played in supporting the Nazis, and then how they tried too little, too late to fix the mistake.
I read this book in conjunction with In the Garden of Beasts (Erik Larson non-fiction about American ambassador in Berlin 1933-1934). What a horrific time, and what a lesson to think about how to prevent it from happening again.
The reader is ok - a little stiff for my taste, but competent and well-paced. He's not very good with the female characters, and his American accent is terrible, but he's a great fit for the Brits and the Germans, and he does a pretty good job with the Russians.
This book takes off a little slow, then clicks along in a gritty, vintage wise-guy style for most of the book - appealing, street-wise, intellectual anti-hero surrounded by lunky gangsters. Evocative settings during Prohibition, in prison, in Ybor City during rum-running's height. Nice look at the changes organized crime had to make to adapt to the end of Prohibition. Good characters. Ends a little abruptly, but I am now looking for another one by this author. Narrator does a good job.
Vintage JLB, with his violence, his lyrical settins, his magical realism, and what I can't resist: his keening elegy to a Louisiana that is fading, fading, but not quite extinguished.
JLB writes for the English major and warrior spirit in his readers. The reader is alternately word-struck and pumped full of adreneline during the whole-shebang-fourth-of-July-fireworks finale in this book.
Clete Purcell plays a key role in this book, and he's a larger-than-life train wreck, as usual. Some of the reviewers found the book angry, but I don't know how anyone who loves Louisiana and its once-glorious natural treasures can be anything but angry at the systematic catastrophes caused by human activity there. JLB's level of anger seems appropriate to me. Somebody has to speak up for this lost biodiversity and culture that is unique in the world.
Will Patton is spectacular, as always. A perfect match.
Ripley - a neurotic sociopath - is not an engaging character. And the pace and narration of this story plods along. The other characters are wan and tepid, not the sparkling but damaged children of privelege that the movie demonstrates. You don't really care what happends to anyone in this story.
What a great peek into the depths of vaudeville, burlesque, the 20th c American economy and social mores, and what life was like before the development of pervasive psychological and psychiatric literacy. While parts of this story are very tragic, Gypsy Rose Lee's spirit and the portrait of her clearly borderline personality mother are fascinating. Very well narrated.
If you are a fan of literary tour-de-force Jeanette Winterson (like I am), this memoir is not to be missed. Winterson's command of the English language and her literary accomplishments juxtapose sharply against her strong north-of-England, working class accent as she narrates her own story. Adopted by a religious fanatic, her story is a powerful example of personal and psychological self-reliance and triumph over adversity. And as a later middle-aged writer reflecting on her past, she charts a path to sanity and love. As readers we celebrate with her. This witty and wry narrative is superb, and superbly read by Winterson herself. Makes me want to go back and re-read Oranges are not the Only Fruit, the Passion, and Sexing the Cherry.
This thoroughly engrossing story keeps you pushing forward to get to the next plot twist right up until the end. Well read - the reader matches the low-key Minnesotan habitat of the protagonist. The female characters are fantastic, and you feel like you're in the Amazon with all of its miraculous biodiversity and oppressive dangers and claustrophobia. Highly recommended. Couldn't stop listening.
I'm a birder, so I thoroughly enjoyed this look into competitive listing and the vast opportunity of habitat in the U.S. The narrative was a little slow, but it was a good story.
I can't review the whole book - I couldn't get hooked. Dry as a bone.
I'll never look at my hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin (no black residents even in the mid-1980's) or the Obama candidacy or phrases like "there goes the neighborhood" in the same way again. This book deserves every spec of praise it received when it came out - the story is epic, powerful, personal, and completely engrossing. Very well read and well paced by the narrator, too. It changed the way I think about race issues in the U.S.
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