The song, passed down through the generations, carries Malcolm's descendants through the settling of the frontier, the Civil War, the coming of the railroads, and into modern times, providing both solace in the present and a link to the past. Over the years, though, the memory of the old song has dimmed and Lark McCourry's only hope of preserving her family legacy lies in mountain wise-woman Nora Bonesteel, who talks to both the living and the dead.
(P)2004 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
Mountain Culture and Worldview
The Songcatcher is an introduction to the culture and worldview of the people of the Southern Appalachian mountains at the beginning of the 21st Century. It does this by introducing the reader to some wonderful multidimensional characters who belong to that culture and share in that worldview. Episodes are described from various periods of the characters' lives, giving the reader insights into how their lives were developed by their culture and how their experiences slowly altered their worldview in turn. In this way we get to know the characters as real persons, not entirely good or evil, each with their own strengths and weaknesses following their own agendas within the framework of mountain culture, rather than the single dimensional stereotypical images that define most writing about the people of the mountains. Then, using family genealogy. we are givens descriptions of events from the lives of our character's ancestors for several generations, allowing the reader further insights into the development of the mountain worldview and how that worldview continues to guide the current character's attitudes and actions generations later.
There are questions we ask about other people all the time without ever receiving an answer or acquiring the insights into that person's personality or behavior that we imagine such answers could bring. We are generally left confused about them and thereby we lose any insight we might have gained about ourselves. "Why does he always seem so grouchy?" "Why does she close herself off from others so?" "Have they never gotten along?" "Can't they see what they are doing to each other?" In the Songcatcher, Author Sharyn McCrumb shows us where in the history of family interactions these attitudes, mannerisms and actions originated and how they go on to affect family dynamics for generations to come. It becomes fairly easy then to find in our own lives and relationships similar patterns of behavior and similar results.We can begin then to see how our own cultural perceptions can determine our worldview and how it then informs all our beliefs, actions, attitudes and behaviors. It is easy to see ourselves in Ms McCrumb's characters.
The catalyst for the story is an old folk song that entered the family a couple hundred years ago, accompanied several characters through the trials and adventures of their lives and was in turn passed on to a member or members of the next generation. You can follow the slight alterations in melody and words that contribute to the evolution of the song, just as the song chronicles and contributes to the evolution of the characters touched by it. The song takes on a life of its own as it winds its way into the present events and changes them, contributing once again to the culture of the people of the mountains.
In many ways it could be likened to Alex Hailey's book Roots. In that any understanding gained about the characters involved depends upon our gaining an understanding of the experiences and culture of the generations that went before them. We are all, for good or ill, the product of our past. Our lives are the result of other lives that preceded our own and is the tale of what they communicated to us about them, and what we then do with that tale.
Roots told us about the evolution and rise of African-American culture and it's worldview based upon the experiences of its participants represented by one family that went from being free in the old world to being enslaved in the new world and their struggle to regain, not only their personal liberty, but the sense of their reason for being amidst a hostile new environment. This all occurred over the course of generations.
What Roots did for the story of an African-American family, The Songcatcher does for the family of a Scottish boy, kidnapped, taken away from his homeland, enslaved, But rising above the adversity He become a lawyer in the New World, then a frontiersman. As in Roots, he and his family have to discover their reason for being on the wild frontier of this New World and allow it build them into the family they become over the course of generations.
My favorite scene was when Malcomb McCourrey, a man who came to this country as a kidnapped indentureed servant, with no family or friends, who had spent years building a life as a successful small town lawyer with which he provided for his family; when he found that he did not fit into the prevalent culture of his time and geographical location, found the courage in his later years to leave it all in capable hands and, taking little with him, go out to the Western Frontier and rebuild a new live from nothing. A life that did fit him and no other because it was custom made for him. A life of hardships and a life of satisfaction, without regard for what others might think of him for doing so. In that act he built the mountain family this story was about.
I grew up in the mountain culture of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, so it brought a lot back for me. Many times while listening I would burst into laughing out loud. I found it a delightful book.
Enjoying reading a book and enjoying the same book as an audio book are two different experiences. In both you must have a good story with good characters all held together by creative and engaging writing by an author who can entertain with words. But in addition to that, an audio book has to be well-performed, either by a reader or by several reading the various characters parts. It helps tremendously if the performer can make you believe they are the character they are portraying by the use of accents and vocal expressions. Many find this much more difficult for a Southern novel. The Southern accents (there are more than one and none have the Gone With the Wind sound that is so popular in Hollywood) have been derided as a form of expression denoting ignorance, suspicion and closed-mindedness. None of that was apparent in this novel. The accents were real and natural and the acting was good. All making for a very enjoyable and entertaining experience.
Sharyn McCrumb is an incredible storyteller and this book does not disappoint. The story spans generations and alternates between them with a family's ballad tying them together. I realized that the added benefit of listening to this particular story on audio was that I could actually hear the song (instead of just reading it). As a result I began singing it around the house and it still haunts me, days after finishing the book. Excellent story... and song.
This has been one of the most enjoyable books I have listened to in a long time. The story is very well written and the narration is excellent. I would recommend this very strongly.
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