Caleb's Crossing Amazon Best Books of the Month, May 2011 When Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks came to live on Martha's Vineyard in 2006, she ran across a map by the island's native Wampanoag people that marked the birthplace of Caleb, first Native American to graduate of Harvard College in 1665.
In Caleb's Crossing, Brooks offers a compelling answer to the riddle of how — in an era that considered him an intellectually impaired savage — he left the island to compete with the sons of the Puritanical elite.
She relates his story through the impassioned voice of the daughter of the island's Calvinist minister, a brilliant young woman who aches for the education her father wastes on her dull brother. Bethia Mayfield meets Caleb at 12, and their mutual affinity for nature and knowledge evolves into a clandestine, lifelong bond. Bethia's father soon realizes Caleb's genius for letters and prepares him for study at Harvard, while Bethia travels to Cambridge under much less auspicious circumstances.
This window on early academia fascinates, but the book resounds loudest in the fire of a Wampanoag medicine man.
44 Charles Street
After her boyfriend and business partner leaves her, Manhattan art dealer Francesca Thayer is forced to take in boarders in order to save her beloved home. She rents out rooms to Eileen, a young teacher; Marya, a famous chef; and Chris, an attractive single father.
They all become close friends, but their lives remain chaotic.
Eileen falls in love with tattooed men, Marya has a persistent, married suitor, and Chris gains full custody of his son as his ex-wife becomes increasingly erratic. Along the way, Francesca stops worrying about what might have been, and becomes more involved in the world around her — romances, plumbing problems and all. While addressing the recession, the lethal danger of Internet dating and the evils of drug abuse, author Danielle Steel keeps the tone gentle and soothing in this warm, cozy tale about the triumph of love, friendship and second chances.
We meet him late in life: a quiet man, a good father and husband, a fixture in his Brooklyn neighborhood, a landlord and barber with a terrifying scar across his face.
As the book unfolds, moving seamlessly between Haiti in the 1960s and New York today, we enter the lives of those around him and learn that he has kept a vital, dangerous secret.
Edwidge Danticat's brilliant exploration of the “dew breaker” — or torturer — is an unforgettable story of love, remorse and hope; of personal and political rebellions; and of the compromises we make to move beyond the most intimate brushes with history. It firmly establishes her as one of America's most essential writers.
A letter from author Mary Doria Russell
For the past three years, when people asked what my next novel is about, I've only had to say four words. “It's about Doc Holliday.” You mention Doc Holliday to guys especially and they just light up. “Oh, man! I love Doc!” they say, and they often mention Val Kilmer's portrayal in the movie “Tombstone.”
I love that movie, too, but when I write characters, I'm really writing about whom and what they love. The shining silver wire that runs through Doc is John Henry Holliday's love for his mother.
Alice Holliday was 22 when her son was born near Atlanta in the summer of 1851. She was still in mourning for her firstborn, “a sweet little girl who lived just long enough to gaze and smile and laugh, and break her parents' hearts.” I'm sure you can imagine her distress when her second child was born with a cleft palate and cleft lip. Even today, when you know clefts can be repaired, they're a shock.
In 1851, such children commonly died within weeks, but Alice kept her boy alive, waking every hour to feed him with an eyedropper, day and night, for eight long weeks. Think about that exhausted young woman and the baby with the hole in his face. Locking eyes. Struggling to stay awake. Struggling to stay alive...
When the infant was two months old, his uncle Dr. John Stiles Holliday performed a successful surgical repair of the cleft--an achievement kept private to protect the family's reputation. You see, in the 1850s, the Hollidays were Georgia gentry whose large extended family would become the O'Haras, Wilkeses and Hamiltons in Gone With The Wind. (Margaret Mitchell was Doc's cousin, twice removed.) These were people who took “good breeding” seriously, and birth defects were a source of familial shame--for everyone but Alice.
Alice and her son became intensely close. She invented a form of speech therapy to correct his diction. She was a piano teacher who introduced him to the music that would become their great shared passion. She home-schooled him until she was sure his speech wouldn't be ridiculed, then sent him to a local boys academy, where he excelled in every subject. In the midst of our nation's ugliest war, she raised a shy, intelligent child to be a thoughtful, courteous gentleman and a fine young scholar who would earn the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery before he was 21.
Alice didn't live to see him graduate. She died of tuberculosis when John Henry was 15. The loss was staggering, and when he, too, developed TB, he knew exactly what kind of awful death he faced. Hoping dry air and sunshine would restore his health, he left everyone and everything he loved, and went West. He was only 22 when he left Atlanta in 1873.
The Doc Holliday of legend is a gambler and gunman who appears out of nowhere in 1881, arriving in Tombstone with a bad reputation and a hooker named Big Nose Kate. But I have written the story of Alice Holliday's son: a scared, sick, lonely boy, born for the life of a minor aristocrat in a world that ceased to exist at the end of the Civil War, trying to stay alive on the rawest edge of the American frontier.
John Henry Holliday didn't have a mother to love him when he was grown, so I have taken him for my own. My fondest hope for Doc is that it will win for him the compassion and respect I think he deserves. Read it, and weep.
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris
Amazon Best Books of the Month, June
At first glance, “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris” might seem to be foreign territory for author David McCullough, whose other books have mostly remained in the Western Hemisphere. But The Greater Journey is still a quintessentially American history.
Between 1830 and 1900, hundreds of Americans — many of them future household names like Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mark Twain, Samuel Morse, and Harriet Beecher Stowe — migrated to Paris. McCullough shows first how the City of Light affected each of them in turn, and how they helped shape American art, medicine, writing, science, and politics in profound ways when they came back to the United States.
McCullough's histories have always managed to combine meticulous research with sheer enthusiasm for his subjects, and it's hard not to come away with a sense that you've learned something new and important about whatever he's tackled. The Greater Journey is, like each of McCullough's previous histories, a dazzling and kaleidoscopic foray into American history by one of its greatest living chroniclers.
Hope for Animals and Their World
With the resurgence of red wolves and California condors, there is good news on the species front, as chronicled in this collection of success stories by renowned chimp researcher Jane Goodall.
Section one recounts the revival of six mammal and bird species, including Mongolian miniature horses and Australian wallabies, that became extinct in the wild but are being reintroduced to their natural habitat through captive breeding.
Section two describes efforts to bring species back from near extinction, among them Brazil's golden lion tamarin and the North American whooping crane.
Section three details continuing efforts to preserve 11 species, including the giant pandas of China, whose bamboo diet is disappearing, and the Asian vultures of India, whose disastrous population drop— from a reported 87 million birds to 27 breeding pairs in 2006 — led to a dramatic rise in disease incubated by putrefying cattle carcasses once scavenged by the carrion-loving birds.
Goodall is no Pollyanna about species reclamation — she acknowledges there have been more losses than gains — but these accounts of conservation success are inspirational.
The Imperial Cruise
Theodore Roosevelt steers America onto the shoals of imperialism in this stridently disapproving study of early 20th century U.S. policy in Asia. Bestselling author of “Flags of Our Fathers,” author James Bradley traces a 1905 voyage to Asia by Roosevelt's emissary William Howard Taft, who negotiated a secret agreement in which America and Japan recognized each other's conquests of the Philippines and Korea. Roosevelt's flamboyant, pistol-packing daughter, Alice, went along to generate publicity, and Bradley highlights her antics.
Each port of call prompts a case study of American misdeeds: the brutal counter-insurgency in the Philippines, the takeover of Hawaii by American sugar barons, Roosevelt's betrayal of promises to protect Korea, which green-lighted Japanese expansionism and thus makes him responsible for Pearl Harbor.
Bradley explores the racist underpinnings of Roosevelt's policies and paradoxical embrace of the Japanese as Honorary Aryans. Bradley's critique of Rooseveltian imperialism is compelling but unbalanced. He doesn't explain how Roosevelt could have evicted the Japanese from Korea, and insinuates that the Japanese imperial project was the brainstorm of American advisers. Ironically, his view of Asian history, like Roosevelt's, denies agency to the Asians themselves.
My Name is Mary Sutter
The Civil War offers a 20-year-old midwife who dreams of becoming a doctor the medical experience she craves, plus hard work and heartbreak, in this rich debut that takes readers from a small upstate New York doctor's office to a Union hospital overflowing with the wounded and dying.
Though she's too young for the nursing corps, Mary Sutter goes to Washington anyway, and after a chance meeting with a presidential secretary, is led to the Union Hotel Hospital, where she assists chief surgeon William Stipp and becomes so integral to Stipp's work she ignores her mother's pleas to return home to deliver her sister's baby.
From a variety of perspectives — Mary, Stipp, their families, and social, political, and military leaders — the novel offers readers a picture of a time of medical hardship, crisis, and opportunity.
Author Robin Oliveira depicts the amputation of a leg, the delivery of a baby and soldierly life; these are among the fine details that set this novel above the gauzier variety of Civil War fiction. The focus on often horrific medicine and the women who practiced it against all odds makes for compelling reading.
So Long, See You Tomorrow
On an Illinois farm in the 1920s, a man is murdered, and in the same moment the tenuous friendship between two lonely boys comes to an end.
In telling their interconnected stories, American Book Award winner William Maxwell delivers a masterfully restrained and magically evocative meditation on the past.
A small, perfect novel by Maxwell.
Author Paul Harding's outstanding debut unfurls the history and final thoughts of a dying grandfather surrounded by his family in his New England home.
George Washington Crosby repairs clocks for a living and on his deathbed revisits his turbulent childhood as the oldest son of an epileptic, small-time traveling salesman. The descriptions of the father's epilepsy and the cold halo of chemical electricity that encircled him immediately before he was struck by a full seizure are stunning, and the household's sadness permeates the narrative.
The real star is Harding's language, which dazzles whether he's describing the workings of clocks, sensory images of nature, the many engaging side characters who populate the book, or even a short passage on how to build a bird nest. This is an especially gorgeous example of novelistic craftsmanship.