Saturday, July 01, 2006


Continuing with the bestsellers from 1945:

A Lion Is In The Streets, Adria Locke Langley, McGraw-Hill Book Company Inc, 1945, 482 pp
This was the #6 bestseller of 1945 and was a very interesting book. It is the story of Hank Martin, who came from an extremely poor Mississippi family and worked his way up to governor of the state. His wife is Verity, who came from Philadelphia Quakers, whose mother ran an orphanage and who started out with Hank, completely in love. At the time when I read this book, I was not aware of the infamous Huey Long. I have since read All The King's Men and now realize that this book must be another fictional interpretation of that man.

Anyway, Hank was a natural born politician and supplemented his public appeal with shady deals. He spent much time away from Verity and she grew away from him as her awareness of his activities grew. In the end, Hank is killed and Verity is free from her problem: how to be a loyal wife to a man whose acts she did not condone.

In many places I thought the writing was overly melodramatic, but then Hank was a melodramatic personality. All the dialogue was in Southern dialect which really set the locale. While it was not great literature, it was entertaining and dealt with a uniquely American political situation which seems to go on today with some of our Presidents.

So Well Remembered, James Hilton, Little Brown and Company, 1945, 284 pp
The #7 bestseller of 1945 is set in England in a small town which had grown up around a cotton mill in the 1800s. The main character is George Boswell, son of a millworker, who has an optimistic outlook and raised himself up to being a councilman of the town. His goals are to improve the town by getting rid of the slums and making education available to all the children.

The story of the original millowner's family runs along with the main story and intersects when George marries Olivia, the remaining daughter. Her father had been convicted of some kind of financial scam and was in prison during all of her childhood. Her mother went off with another man and Olivia grew up to be a very strange young woman. Her character is much less well-defined than George's. I didn't feel that I understood her and I'm not sure the author did either.

She and George had a son who died as a toddler during a diphtheria epidemic. George had gotten free immunization for the town, but Olivia never got the shot for their baby. This basically ruins their marriage, she leaves, meets another man and divorces George. In the end, during WWII, George meets Charles, the son of Olivia and her second husband, and saves him from the obsessive, possessive clutches of Olivia.

I did like the way Hilton unfolded the story with several sections of present and back story. I liked George and disliked Olivia. I think the author was trying to contrast hope and cynicism, which was surely a dichotomy of the times. Overall the novel was OK but didn't work for me.

Captain From Castile,Samuel Shellabarger, The Sun Dial Press, 1945, 503 pp
At #8, this was a thoroughly enjoyable swashbuckling romance. The time is early 1500s, the setting is Spain and the New World, which at that time was the West Indies and Mexico. The most adventurous men of Spain are following Columbus' voyages and are bent on conquest of new land for the King of Spain and the glory of God. It is the time of the Inquisition as well.

Pedro de Vargas is 19 and son of a renowned Spanish cavalier. He and his family are accused of heresy because a neighbor, the evil dude of the story, wants their land. Throughout the story, Pedro gets into one impossibly bad situation after another and escapes every time due to wits, bravery and no fear of pain. He thinks he wants Luisa, a high-born noble young woman, but he actually loves Catana, a wench from a local cantina. He has a great friend, Juan Garcia, who helps him out of scrapes. Pedro, Juan and Catana become part of Cortez' army and help to take Mexico. It is a brutal rape and plunder of the Aztec civilization, carried out for fortune, honor, Christianity but most of all for adventure.

There is a very happy ending and it is brought about, as is the whole story, by excellent writing, characterization and setting. I wonder if some author in 2400 will write historical fiction about this era and make it sound as exciting and romantic.

Earth and High Heaven, Gwethalyn Graham, The Sun Dial Press, 1944, 288 pp
Bestseller #9 of 1945 brings us back to current times. It is a love story with a twist. Set in Montreal, Canada, the woman is of a wealthy Protestant family, the man is a Jew and also in the mix is the French Roman Catholic segment. It is 1942, the war is raging and the hapless couple are almost destroyed emotionally by prejudice.

It is a pretty heavy book for a bestseller with long passages of psychological explanations for what goes on between the woman and her parents, etc. But it is also very true to life, has good characters and dialogue, and was probably fairly racy for its time. It is a radical plea for overcoming prejudice and makes the bold assertion that it is people standing up for truth who make changes. In the end, love wins and I cried.

Immortal Wife, Irving Stone, Doubleday & Company Inc, 1944, 505 pp
Jessie Fremont was the wife of John Fremont in the 1800s. John was an explorer of the West, which was his favorite occupation. But he also ran for President against James Buchanan and lost. He was a gold miner in California and a railroad builder. He was an officer in the Union Army during the Civil War. No matter what he did, he did it well, courageously and to the hilt. But he always lost, mainly because he was an adventurer, impulsive and a bit too much for the people around him. So he was court-martialed, sued and taken advantage of financially.

Jessie made a life-long project out of being the perfect wife. As much as a woman could in those times, she went into the fray with him. She wrote, she organized and she kept her man from despair. For a strong woman at that point in history, she found adventure by living for and through a man.

It was an exciting read. Some of the parts were a bit overdone on Jessie's sacrifices for John (probably that perfect wife stuff really hit home for American women in 1945), but overall a great book. It was the #10 bestseller in 1945.

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