Tuesday, September 26, 2006


This is the final post about my reading for 1948. It contains the award winners for the year.

The City and The Pillar, Gore Vidal, E P Dutton & Co Inc, 1948, 207 pp
This is Gore Vidal's third novel and it was scandalous at the time because it is about male homosexuality. It was a good read. He has developed as a writer and he draws you in.

Jim is the central character. He has a sexual encounter with a highschool classmate named Bob in his hometown of Virginia. Bob leaves town after highschool and Jim leaves a year later. Jim wanders as a seaman, then as a tennis instructor and then in the army, all the time looking for Bob since they have fallen out of touch. He moves in and out of the gay world in Hollywood and New York. He finally finds Bob but it is a tragic ending for Jim.

The book is a sympathetic look at what it was like to be a gay man in 1940s America, how it is a subculture, and mostly how one man discovered his sexual orientation and how he dealt with it in his younger years. I learned more about that part of life.

Catalina, Somerset Maugham, Doubleday & Company Inc, 1948, 275 pp
Catalina is a poor Spanish girl who was crippled by a run-away bull and deserted by her lover. She is visited by The Lady and thereby unfolds a tale of religious intrigue during Inquisition times. Catalina remains under the Blessed Mary's protection and her life goes well.

This is the same historical period as in The Golden Hawk, by Frank Yerby (#6 bestseller of 1948) but the story takes place in Spain. Maugham's wonderful writing gives insight into the practices of the Catholic Church at that time. He is so smooth. He never censures but you get it anyway: the fanaticism, politics, power plays and the control of the poor by the church.

The best part was that it had a happy ending due to Catalina's strong spirit and refusal to be controlled by the church, men or her disability.

Cry, The Beloved Country, Alan Paton, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948, 312 pp
Out of all the books I've read from 1940-1948, this is only the third that takes place in Africa. Midaq Alley (1947) by Nagrib Mahfouz, was set in Cairo, Egypt during WWII. Mine Boy (1946) by Peter Abrahams, took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, in about the same time as Paton's book. But Cry, The Beloved Country was the first book about Apartheid in South Africa to reach and be read widely by an American audience. Alan Paton was the superintendent of a reformatory for native youths in South Africa and instituted changes there which attempted to educate these youths and teach them a trade so that they could get work in the cities.

In his book, Paton tells the story of a native man who is a Christian minister in a small native town and has lost his sister and his only son to the city (Johannesburg). The land around his village has been ravished by erosion and tribal life has been disrupted by years of working for the white man. Reverend Kumalo receives a letter from a minister in Johannesburg, informing him that his sister is ill. The impoverished minister scrapes up all the meagre savings that he and his wife have managed to put by and sets off in search of his sister and son.

In Johannesburg, he finds that his sister has become a prostitute and his son a theif. He learns about the state of natives in the slums, the efforts of churches to help these people, the politics, the racism. He also finds many good people, both native and white, who help him. It is a heartrending story but not completely tragic. Kumalo is able to effect some good changes back in his village, because his experiences in the city galvanized him into action and enlightened him on what needed to be changed.

The book is disturbing and hopeful at the same time. The writing is not great but it is acceptable and the story stands as a document of an era in South African history.

Now for the Award Winners. The Nobel Prize for Literature went to T S Eliot of England.

Pulitzer Prize:
Tales of the South Pacific, James Michener
Published in 1947, I read it for that year. See review in post of August 13, 2006, Books Read From 1947 Part Three.

Newbery Medal:
The 21 Balloons, William Pene duBois, The Viking Press, 1947, 180 pp
What a wonderful story! Balloon travel, a secret volcanic island in the South Pacific, scientific inventions and diamonds. This was one of my favorite books of the year. It is about a utopia that would have survived except for the violent ways of nature.

Caldecott Medal:
White Snow, Bright Snow, Alvin Tresselt, Lothrop Lee & Shepard Books, 1947, 27 pp
This is an award for illustration, won this year by illustrator Roger Duvoisin. I was not impressed. The colors of the illustrations were not pleasing. The story is about a snow storm in a very small town followed by melting and the beginning of spring. If this was read to me as a child in Pittsburgh, PA, I think the outside world would have been more colorful even in a blizzard.

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