The Golden Hawk, Frank Yerby, The Dial Press, 1948, 312 pp
Another Yerby book, #6 on the bestseller list for 1948. It takes place in the Caribbean where the Spanish, English and French are fighting for supremacy amidst pirates, called free-booters.
The hero is Kit, bastard son of a Spanish grandee and a French woman. Kit is a pirate and the grandee is his arch enemy. Kit does not learn until near the end of the book that this man is his father. He blames the man for the death of his mother.
Kit has a faithful friend, a Jew (who is Inquisition fodder back in Spain.) Our hero is also in love with two women and conflicted about that for the whole story. It is the usual Yerby romantic historical novel, but better than The Vixens which is the one I read in 1947.
Raintree County, Ross Lockridge Jr, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1948, 1060 pp
What a book! It was my favorite book from 1948. Long, sweeping, historical, philosophical, with love stories and humor. It was the #7 bestseller in 1948 and I was prepared to be bored but I never was, even for one of its 1060 pages. The time was 1892 and the whole book dealt with one day, the fourth of July, but most of it was flashbacks in the life of John Wickliff Shawnessy, local Indiana boy, dreamer, teacher and writer.
Besides the flashbacks, Lockridge used many other devices: songs from the era, fragments of invented newspaper reports, and dream sequences. Perhaps a bit overdone, but it didn't bother me. He is writing about the dream of America as seen in the microcosm of a small mid-western town. So much truth about the forces and evils that eroded that dream. The Civil War is a large part of the story, from the Northern point of view this time.
So I loved it, I am so glad I read it and I feel that it could stand up today as literature. I'm not sure why it did not become a classic. It is to me.
Shannon's Way, A J Cronin, Little Brown and Company, 1948, 313 pp
This was #8 on the list. It was a fairly fast read, quite melodramatic, but interesting historically. The story begins in 1918 with Shannon as a young medical researcher in a British university department. He is unhappily working on someone else's project but tries to sneak in his own research. He is caught and his troubles begin.
Robert Shannon lives for his research. He is trying to discover the cause of influenza, which was occuring in epidemic proportions in Europe, Great Britain and America at the time. Of course, there is a girl and of course their love is doomed, because he is Catholic (sort of) and her family is some strict Protestant sect.
After many hardships, including the near death of the girl and a mental breakdown for Robert, it finally works out. This is the third book I have read by Cronin and Keys to the Kingdom is still my favorite.
Pilgrim's Inn, Elizabeth Goudge, Coward-McCann Inc, 1948
At #9 is a book which I read some years ago when I was reading all of Goudge's books. It has also gone under the title of The Herb of Grace. She wrote it as a sequel to an earlier book, The Bird in the Tree. It is a story of healing, grace and doing the right thing. Sometimes Goudge goes a bit far on the religious theme and it gets almost too transparent, but there is so much integrity and reality in her characters that she pulls it off.
I don't think anyone could get away with writing so blatantly about goodness in today's world. But I find it fortunate that someone has done it in the past; a past that is only 60 years ago.
The Young Lions, Irwin Shaw, Random House Inc, 1948, 689 pp
The #10 bestseller for 1948 was another one of my favorites for the year. It is WWII again and is the story of two American men and one Austrian man (fighting for the Germans.) The action takes place in France and Africa, where these men's paths keep crossing.
Shaw makes you totally love his characters and totally hate the impersonal nature of armies and the futility of war. His writing is smooth, unobtrusive and pretty much perfect. Again, it is amazing that this was a first novel, but the author went on to write many bestsellers and I will be reading him again.
The thing that proves it was a great book is that I got lost in reading it even though I was so weary of reading about that damn war.