This post is part of my on-going project, called My Big Fat Reading Project (see post of July 6, 2005). It is also part of the prologue to the next installment of my memoir, called Reading For My Life. To find and read earlier installments, see post of September 2, 2006, entitled Hello to New Readers.
Here are the top five bestsellers from 1949:
The Egyptian, Mika Waltari, G P Putnam's Sons, 1949, 503 pp
This is the first book I read from 1949 and the #1 bestseller of that year. It is excellent historical fiction about the time in Egypt's history when the Pharaoh Akhnaton attempted to change the country's religion from a worship of Ammon to Aton, whom he considered the one true god. This change almost brought about the downfall of Egypt. The time is 1300 BC.
The protagonist is Sinuhe, an adopted orphan who became a doctor. Sinuhe tells his life story, which was bound up with the Pharoah's and which led to his exile from Egypt. He is a healer, a pacifist and he feels unable to cope with the violence and dishonesty of his world. According to data I found on the web, Mika Waltari was Finnish and used the historical novel to express his disillusionment with the world after WW II. The Egyptian makes it quite clear how much damage can be done by a ruler who is not quite sane and is out of touch with his own people. It made very good reading in today's world.
The Big Fisherman, Lloyd C Douglas
This book was #2 in 1949 but #1 in 1948. See my post of September 11, 2006 for the review.
Mary, Sholem Asch, G P Putnam's Sons, 1949, 436 pp
At #3 on the bestseller list for 1949, Mary is the conclusion of a trilogy by Asch (which includes The Nazarene and The Apostle.) It was the least interesting of the three. It is the story of Jesus from his mother Mary's point of view, but does not cover much new ground. The book also contains a good bit of the history of the times but is presented in a manner that was too dry for me.
What I did learn, via Google, is that Sholem Asch wrote in Yiddish, fell out of favor with Jews because he explored the possibility that Jesus actually was the Messiah, and wrote about Judaism vs Christianity. I also learned that he was read by Bob Dylan and that his son Moses Asch was the founder of Folkways Records.
A Rage to Live, John O'Hara, Random House Inc, 1949, 590 pp
This was #4 on the bestseller list. The story takes place in Fort Penn, a fictional name for Harrisburg, PA and is set in the 20th century. Grace Caldwell is the daughter of the most socially prominent family in the city; very rich, very beautiful and very foolish. She has hot pants, so even though she marries the best possible man, also very rich, she has an affair with a low class scumbag and ruins the husband, her marriage and eventually her standing in the city.
I can see why it was a bestseller, as it is quite racy for its time. O'Hara certainly has much insight into society, money and local politics. But it was a long and wordy book with a little too much explanation of the happenings and had a weak and terrible epilogue.
Point of No Return, John P Marquand, Grosset & Dunlap, 1949, 559 pp
The fifth top bestseller for 1949 is a postwar story about Charles and Nancy and their two children trying to get ahead in the suburbs of New York City, a common theme in novels of the late 1940s. Charles works in an old established bank and is anxiously awaiting a promotion to vice-president. He needs the promotion to create the life he wants for his family and he is pretty sure he has a rival at the bank.
Actually, most of the novel is Charles' back story about the small town and family he came from. His history explains why he now is working so hard to "get ahead." Like all of Marquand's heroes, he is an honorable man trying to do the right thing in a dishonorable world. I like this author, who has had several bestsellers in the decade. He tells good stories in an engaging way.