Sunday, April 16, 2006


Today I will give you the second half of the Top Ten Bestseller list for 1944

The Green Years, AJ Cronin, Little, Brown & Company; 1944; 347 pp
I didn't like this one as much as The Keys to the Kingdom, which I read for 1941. It was the #6 bestseller for the year. Robert Shannon is an orphan raised by his grandparents in Scotland. He wants to be a biologist and though he hasn't many opportunities, certain people befriend him and make it possible for him to get a good education. He is a sad, introverted dreamer and this coming of age story has a happy ending for Robert. But I didn't like him as character the way I liked the man in the other book.

I think this writer was heavily influenced by Dickens and while he tries to be a little more hard-boiled, he is too sentimental for me; even more sentimental than Dickens.

Leave Her To Heaven, Ben Ames Williams, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1944, 380 pp
At #7, this book also did not particularly please me. The hero is a writer, falls for a beautiful but highly neurotic and manipulative woman and then marries her. I thought it not believable that the man was so stupid. Somehow he keeps on being a writer, but she is never all right and pretty much ruins his life. There is a vein of novels with unreal love affairs in the 1940s bestsellers. I find them all annoying. It might be a symptom of best seller status. I mean, look at Danielle Steele.

Green Dolphin Street, Elizabeth Goudge; Coward-McCann, Inc; 1944; 502 pp
The #8 book of the bestsellers for 1944 is one of my all time favorite books. It is the book that started my love for Elizabeth Goudge, which continues to this day. I had already read it twice, the first time as a teenager and the second time in 1991, so I didn't read it again for this project and I am a little hazy on the details. Marianne and Marguerite are sisters living on an island in the English channel. They are different in every way. Marianne is plain, intelligent and forever longing for travel and adventure. Marguerite is beautiful, content and has a pleasing personality. William is the son of a neighboring family on Green Dolphin Street and the best friend of both girls. But they grow up, both sisters are in love with William and in an effort to help him make something of himself, get him into the Navy.

After six years, a letter comes from William asking for Marianne's hand in marriage. He is by this time a settler in Australia (we are in the 19th century here) and Marianne must make the journey alone. The trouble is that it was Marguerite that William had been longing for all these years, but he was a bit drunk when he wrote the letter and confused the names. Thus, Marianne's arrival is more than a bit awkward. But William swallows his disappointment, doesn't let on and the two live a tumultuous decade or so in the wilds of Australian sheep country. The truth is that Marguerite would probably not have held up under the hardships there and Marianne is exactly the sort of woman a settler needs. Marguerite enters a convent and finally after many years, the truth all comes out. By this time, William loves his wife deeply.

Now that I outline the story, it sounds hackneyed and unoriginal, but it is the telling of the story, the characters, the setting and the determined strength of Marianne that I loved. William is actually quite a difficult man, as most men are in my opinion. Marianne has one of those female extreme-adventure lives which Maureen Corrigan talks about in Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading. The best thing is that she prevails, she isn't beaten down; she is a very strong woman. I would want my granddaughters to read this book when they are old enough.

A Bell For Adano, John Hersey, Alfred A Knopf, Inc; 1944, 269 pp
The #9 bestseller is a war story and it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1945, so is one of those books that get assigned in school. If I read it in school, I didn't remember a thing about it. Now that I have been steeped in all this World War II history, it meant something to me.

Major Victor Joppolo, US Army, was sent to administer the town of Adano, Italy after the Allied Forces invaded. He is of Italian descent, though raised in New York City, and feels an affinity for the town and its people. He wants to bring them democracy and happiness after their long oppression under fascism. The town's bell was destroyed by bombing and is the event that made them the most unhappy.

The major is successful in getting them a new bell as well as creating a spirit of cooperation in starting to rebuild the town, until a curmudgeonly superior gets him recalled. That is the way army politics gets in the way of bringing democracy to the world. I liked the story and Hersey is great at creating characters. He writes with wry humor and a large dose of sentimentality, which reminded me of Saroyan. Actually Upton Sinclair has this tone as well, though he doesn't lay it on as thickly. It was an emotion of the times and I have a feeling it is in its last years and did not survive the horrors of World War II.

The Apostle, Sholem Asch
The tenth bestseller is a carry over from 1943, when it was #7.

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