This autobiographical novel by a member of the Cambodian royal family gave life to the news reports of the takeover of this region by the communists I had read decades ago. The father, whom the narrator lost, had been a prince and a famous poet and taught is handicapped daughter to see the world through his eyes. Despite the horror of seeing her family torn apart and the deprivations that left her homeless, hungry and sometimes alone, this eight-year old sees beauty around her and remembers the images painted by her father. The lyrical nature of the story-telling tied this loving daughter to her father even after their separation and what she fears is his death. Her guilt at having betrayed him because she was proud of who he was is palpable -- perhaps because these events are part of the true story of the author. The book has added dimensions in the unfolding of the painful relation with her own mother and the way the child narrator seeks out love from strangers, while trying to avoid those who would cause her further harm.
Before ordering this book, I read a long interview with the author in The Washington Post and knew about her life. Even this interview did not prepare me fully for the impact of the novel, although it left me wishing I knew more about what was fact and what was fiction.
This would be a good read even if the novel was not based on the horrible adventures of a small child who had to mature quickly in an environment so foreign to the love and plenty she had known.
Although Clint Hill starts his story with the confession that he really did not want to be assigned to the First Lady's detail, slowly through his own words he reveals the admiration and, yes, love that he developed for his charge. For those of us who were young adults at the time the Kennedy's came to the White House, it was fascinating to see Jackie through the eyes of someone who was charged with her safety throughout those years. Hill was the one who walked the halls when both John-John and Patrick were born because he was there and the President was rushing to reach his wife's side. Hill was the one who tried to protect Jackie's jealously guarded privacy by trying to keep the press at bay and by even running errands so that she could stay out of the limelight.
Hill tells of the first encounter with Aristotle Onassis, who was a close friend of Jackie's sister. He provides insights to the close connections of the extended Kennedy family and how Jackie didn't always fit so well with her rowdy in-laws but how she adored her father-in-law and cared for him after his stroke. Although Hill has clearly placed his "Mrs Kennedy" and her "Jack" on a pedestal, he is capable of showing the very human side of the couple. He also shows their almost childlike senses of humor.
If Hill seems a bit too much in awe of Mrs. Kennedy, he earned that right. After all, it was he who raced to the car as the fatal shot was being fired, who saw her grasping for the pieces of the President's head that had just been blown off, who wrapped the President's head in his own jacket to assure that no one else would see the brutality of the wounds and thus some dignity could be preserved. It was Hill who had the heartbreaking job of telling Bobby Kennedy that things were "as bad as they get" when asked about the President's chances and who stayed beside her during that awful flight back from Dallas. And it was Hill who was asked to convince Mrs. Kennedy not to walk from St. Matthew's to Arlington Cemetery because it would be a security nightmare given all of the heads-of-state who would feel obligated also to make the trip by foot if she walked. He prevailed, although the shorter journey from the White House to the church was a walk for all but the children.
It is impossible not to have the death of the President be the primary take-away from this book. However, Hill gives the readers many other wonderful stories that are full of life and joy, making this a worthwhile read.
I had the good fortunate of meeting Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin and hearing him tell stories not in the book. There is still a haunted look in his eyes but he tells his story candidly and didn't turn away from the most probing questions. Having seen and heard the authors, I feel even more confident in recommending this book.
Like the epic poem it parallels, The Song of Achilles should be heard not just read. The book is filled with vivid word images; the rhythm and flow of the sentences add to the pleasure of the story. I often wished that my copy of the Iliad was closer so that I could
check Homer's version of some of the tale, especially the killing of Achilles. The best part of Miller's book is the maturing of Patroclus until he is clearly the "best" of the lot. Achilles is not the only one to benefit from the selfless love of Patroclus. I do wish the author had stopped before the final sentence. Then the book would have ended in a style appropriate to the tale and the two heroes. Frazer Douglas has the prefect voice for this book. He carefully differentiates between the characters.
I have read many of Weir's histories but this was my first experience with her fiction. She is a great story teller and knowing of her interest in the period made this a particularly good read. I would listen again.
It was eerie to listen as events in Lady Jane's life portended her death. Her almost violent reaction to the ruby necklace -- looking like drops of blood around her throat -- sent chills up my spine. Having the story told in snatches and in first person was a very effective way of seeing how the characters developed and their reaction to the events.
The multiple voices worked very well. Each made you think you had just met the character he/she represented.
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