Tag Archives: Legacy

BOOK OF LOST FRIENDS: historical fiction

Lisa Wingate has followed her bestseller, Before We Were Yours with The Book of Lost Friends.

Lost Friends is written in two converging story lines;  staged first in a poverty riddled Louisiana school room in 1987 and alternates with an intensely emotional story set around a decaying  Louisiana plantation during the Reconstruction period in 1875. It is not a happy story, the Civil War is over and the southern states are in turmoil. But it is an easy read and makes you think about the plight of women and people of color during this lawless period of time in our history.

Louisiana, 1987
“Bennie” Silva, a new college graduate, has accepted a teaching position at a poor rural Louisiana school in exchange for clearing her student debt. She finds the kids mired in poverty and without purpose beyond survival. Most see no purpose to learn about a world that has no interest in them and a different future they can’t even image much less strive to reach.

Bennie discovers a book filled with crumbling newspaper articles written by emancipated slaves and published in the Southwestern Christian Advocate. Each article a desperate plea for help in locating family members ripped apart by the auction block. This discovery becomes the catalyst to encourage Bennie’s students to learn of their own legacy and take pride in the part they play in passing that legacy on to the next generation.

Louisiana, 1875
Hannie Gossett was born a slave. In the years leading up to the Civil War, her Master, hoping to avoid the prospect of losing control of his “slave property” through emancipation,  sent all of Hannie’s extended family west to Texas where he hoped to establish a new plantation. The man overseeing the movement of the slaves sold them off one by one between Louisiana and Texas and absconded with the money. Hannie, at six years old, was the only slave from her family recovered and returned to Louisiana by the Master. She remembers that terrible time and dutifully wears her three blue beads Mama gave each family member so they might recognize each other in a chance meeting in the future.

Every chance there is, Mama says . . .[remember] who’s been carried away from us, and what’s the names of the buyers that took them from the auction block and where’re they gone to. ‘Hardy at Big Creek, to a man name LeBas from Woodville, Het at Jatt carried off by a man name Palmer from Big Woods….’

It’s now 1875. The war is over. Master Gossett is now called Mister Gossett. Missus Gossett remains a feared  cruel tyrant. The Gossett’s son, a chip off his mother’s slimy block, is in serious legal trouble out west and his father has left Louisiana for Texas to rescue him. Their daughter, Lavinia, now a young teenager, is a spoiled hate-filled brat, and much to everyone’s relief, has been shipped off to a boarding school. And Mister Gossett has a not-so-secret on-going relationship with a Creole woman that has produced his much loved mixed-race daughter, Juneau Jane. Talk about an dysfunctional family!

It’s 1875. The slaves have been “liberated” and have become sharecroppers with signed land contracts set to mature in the near future. Hannie is now eighteen-years-old and concerned for her future; distrustful of the Gossetts’ honoring the land contracts.

Mister Gossett, as stated, was en-route to Texas to rescue his son and has not been heard from for over four months. Ol’ Tati, caretaker to all the “stray children”, sends Hannie in the dark of night, disguised as a yard-boy to the big house to find their land contracts before the Missus can destroy them in the Mister’s absence.

Hannie is shocked by what she discovers when she arrives at the big house. Lavinia is home from boarding school and working with her mortal enemy, Juneau Jane, to find their father’s will and business papers! Failing to find them, Lavinia furiously orders a carriage driver to take her and Juneau Jane to see her father’s business partner. Hannie spotting a chance to find out what these two are planning, taking a chance she won’t be recognized in her disguise, drives the two half-sisters for what she believes will be a short drive to the partner’s office.

That’s it! All you are going to get from me. I’ll leave you with a clue to the book’s title.  Hannie, Juneau Jane and Lavinia travel on  a long dangerous and complicated journey. They seek refuge one night in an old building. They find the walls wallpapered with newspapers articles from the Southwestern Christian Advocate newspaper. Hannie is shocked to learn the articles were written by former slaves looking for lost kin.

NOTE:
The Southwestern Christian Advocate newspaper actually published a Lost Friends column beginning in 1877 and continued for over twenty years. The author based Hannie, Lavinia, and Juneau Jane on an article written by a former slave named Caroline Flowers.

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ONE IN A MILLION BOY : a novel

 

Monica Wood
Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt | 2017
Review source : Personal copy

★★★★☆

I was married to Howard for twenty-eight years and yet he made only a piddling dent in my memory… certain others … move in and make themselves at home…

Ona Vitkus, 104 years old. The One-In-A-Million Boy

The eleven-year-old boy scout, never named, is dropped at 104 year-old Ona Vitkus’ door by his scoutmaster for the purpose of “doing a good turn” for a couple of months. Other scouts have been here before; each sent packing on day one after failing to meet Miss Vitkus’ idea of what Sir Baden-Powell intended in his first boy-scout directive  – provide assistance to the elderly. Ona took a look at this boy and sensed he needed her as much as she needed him.

Saturday after Saturday, the boy arrived without fail, to fill the bird feeders, mow the lawn, and empty the trash. Something about the boy enchanted Ona; perhaps it was his sincerity, his enthusiasm and his precocious observation skills. The boy’s mind was a sponge for facts and compiling lists of everything; always in groups of 10. Unable to make friends and bullied in school, he found a friend in Ona.

On one of his visits, he asked Ona to help him with a homework assignment. He needed to gather information from an older person about their life. At first, Ona flinched. She had never discussed her past with anyone, including her husband, and 104 years has a lot of suppressed memories. But she soon agreed to be taped, of course, in 10 separate parts.

This is Miss Ona Vitkus. This is her life story on tape. By the time they reached the ninth Saturday, the pair had plotted a way to enter Miss Vitkus in the Guinness Book of World Records for the oldest licensed driver, taped ten sessions of her life history, identified birds, and shared more in those nine weeks than words – they found they had become the most unlikely of friends. You will fall in love with these two as they look beyond age and see inside each other.

On the tenth week, the boy never showed up. And the week after. He had dropped dead, from an undetected heart problem, while riding his bicycle at 5 am, waiting for sunrise, and listening for the morning chorus.

The twelveth week, his father arrived to complete the boy’s contract with Ona; goaded to do so by his ex-wife for his failures as an absentee father. He didn’t explain his punctual boy’s absence to a puzzled Ona but it doesn’t take a wizard to know when someone is grieving.

When Ona calls him on his silence about the boy, Quinn Porter begins a journey to examine his relationship with his son and the loss of his marriages and two divorces to the boy’s mother, Belle. As the family heals, new love blooms, futures look bright for Quinn in his life as a professional musician, and Ona faces her past head-on with their help. The boy’s presence seems to live at Ona’s house; drawing all these imperfect people together as if his spirit is directing things.

The stories of the boy’s parents and their struggles to deal with the death of the boy is alternated with the boy’s visits to Ona prior to his death. The boy’s story is never told from his viewpoint but reflected in his interactions with others; the exception is the ending of the book. An ending that will have you love the boy even more.

Don’t think it is a sad story. There is sadness but there are so many more smiles than tears. The message I took away? You don’t have to be born into a family, to form one. You don’t have to accept that you can’t improve your life. And people are remembered by the tracks they leave in life. One of my top 10 books this year.

My absolute favorite sections of the book are Ona’s taping sessions with the boy; his voice depicted by an ellipsis. His absent voice as clear as if the text was there on the page. Reminiscence of the parents’ absent voices in the Peanuts cartoons.

If you want a real treat, listen to the book. Ona’s voice and mannerisms reminded me of Estelle Getty’s feisty character, Sophia “Ma” Petrillo, on Golden Girls.

Highly recommended.

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Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide

Old Age cover

“If life is a race to the finish line, I’m years ahead now.  In the course of our lives, most of us will get… [bad] news…one day.  And every day you don’t get …bad news increasgrandfather-clipart-granddaughter-grandfatheres the chance that you’ll get it tomorrow. So get ready.”

by Michael Kinsley

 

Tim Duggan Books| April 2016
Hardback: 160 pages (978-1101903766)
Genre: Non-Fiction/Aging/Parkinson’s Disease

ARC hardback copy provided free of charge by Tim Duggan Books via edelweiss in exchange for my honest opinion.

Michael Kinsley, for the edification of the younger generation, is well known to Baby Boomers for his left leaning politicBoomer graphical commentary in print and publicly on numerous televised shows including Firing Line  and as co-star of Crossfire representing the left side of the political spectrum pitched against Pat Buchanan on the right.

In 1993, at age 42, Kinsley was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  At the peak of his career, he had crossed “the line” from rising star to dying star.  In astronomical terms, a “red giant”.

Successfully ensconced  in self-denial for nearly 9 years, challenged by the advancing effects of the disease, had to release the diagnosis publicly in 2002. This admission cracked open his career and forced him to face his future.  The first casualty was a retraction of an offer to run the highly acclaimed magazine, The New Yorker.  He found solace to this first blow to his rising career with success with other endeavors…but it was a sign of things to come.

Now at age 65, Kinsley has written what he hopes will be a guide to fellow Baby Boomers as they, too, face a future with a rapidly approaching expiration date.   He writes, “This book is supposed to be funny, as well, on a subject that does not lend itself to humor.”  Admittedly at times there are witty statements that will make you smile, at the same time the self-deprecating remarks that leave you sad as you understand that a vital and creative journalist has lost his “edge” and he knows it.

Several of the chapters have been lifted from essays appearing previously in other print sources.  My overall feel is that book is somewhat disjointed but delivered with heartfelt genuineness.  Kinsley veers from discussing his life with Parkinson to comparing it to other mind altering diseases such as Alzheimer’s.  He concludes the book with a lecture on the legacy Baby Boomer’s should aspire to achieve.

As an aging Baby Boomer myself, I finished the book with mixed emotions.  Apprehensive about my future, resigned that I can’t do much to face the inevitable but inspired to live this final chapter as fully as possible and to love each sunrise and all my friends and family.

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