Monday, November 27, 2006


Ursula, Under, Ingrid Hill, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2004, 476 pp

This is one of the more amazing books I have ever read. Ursula Hill, who is also a mother of 12 children and has a PhD in literature, is a very hip woman. She is one of those writers, like Margaret Atwood, who shows rather than tells what feminism truly means. It is not lost on me that both of these women are highly educated.

The main story involves two-year-old Ursula and her young parents: Annie, of Finnish descent, and Justin Wong, a Chinese-American. They live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and while on a trip to see an defunct mine where Annie's great-grandfather perished in a mining accident, Ursula accidentally falls down an old mine shaft herself, setting off a huge rescue effort.

While this would make a great story in itself, it takes up only about one fifth of the novel. The remainder is a breathtaking journey back into history which traces the ancestry of Annie and Justin from first century Finland and from 4000 BC in China. Such a massive undertaking makes fascinating reading. I wish I had drawn a family tree as I read. Ingrid Hill brings these ancestors alive as she tells their life stories while she presents a philosophy of history and humanity that I found wonderful and unique.

That is not all. In telling the story of Ursula, Annie and Justin, she draws a picture of contemporary American life that is at once caustic and humorous. It is also sociological in scope, political and cultural in flavor. There are pitch-perfect references to popular phenomena such as music, books, film, clothing, housing, the job market and the list goes on.

Finally comes the climax of the plot which had me in tears for pages yet left me feeling hopeful for the sheer strength of the human spirit and appreciative of my own ancestors. We are all the angels of each other.


I know this is old news from the first of November, but I had to write about it as soon as I got the chance. What made this news so eerie for me was that he died on the very day that I finished reading his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness.

I will never forget the first time I read his most famous novel, Sophie's Choice. I was living in Dearborn, MI and singing for a living in my own Top 40 cover band. I had recently lost my sons (for the second time) to my ex-husband and I was drinking way too much Jack Daniels every night at the gig. My local library was a 20 minute walk from my house and I would walk there as part of the exercise program I was doing at the time (called Thin Thighs in 30 Days, one of those little booklets you can pick up in the check-out lane at the grocery store and it really worked!) I had been reading all sorts of historical and romantic trash, the Barbara Taylor Bradford type of stuff. So it must have been the early 1980s when I stumbled across Sophie's Choice.

Sophie is a non-Jewish Holocaust survivor living in New York City with a totally crazed boyfriend and in the same apartment house as Stingo, an aspiring young author who falls hopelessly in love with Sophie. The book is so emotional, strange and dark. I had never read anything like it before that in my life, except for Thomas Hardy in college. It matched my mood because I was in despair about my children and there is a whole section in the book about what Sophie had to live through concerning her children. In any case, I was cured of reading trashy novels from that time on (except for during airplane trips) and re-introduced to literature for the first time since college.

Styron seems to have always caught hell from critics, which you can read all about by looking him up on Google. He also suffered from depression for much of his adult life (he lost his mother at 13, which fits my theory that people who lose their mothers early in life have something broken in them from then on), so was often ill, in and out of mental hospitals and a victim of psychiatrists. But he lived a fairly long life, had a loyal wife and raised children. Most importantly, he wrote amazing novels, the critics be damned. I say amazing because I think his fiction is real, not pretentious and though it is dark, he shows how people strive to find light in the darkness of their souls.



from Steamboat Gothic by Frances Parkinson Keyes, p 6.

definition from Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition:
a summerhouse on a height, or an open, roofed gallery in an upper story, built for giving a view of the scenery. From Italian, beautiful view.

Sentence: My neighbor built a belvedere onto his house, blocking his neighbor's view and creating enemies in the neighborhood.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


I know, I've been missing for quite a few days. Last week I took a trip to the heartland (Michigan and Ohio) to visit family. It was a brilliant move, suggested by my son, to go the week before Thanksgiving. No crowds, less expensive airfares, no traffic on the interstates. I went with my son who lives in LA and saw my mom, sisters, a niece, my other son and his wife and my three amazing grandchildren. I still ate too much but none of it was turkey. While in Ohio with my older son's family we saw 6 movies in three days, including "Casino Royale" which was fabulous. The new James Bond is the best one yet.

In Michigan I visited my favorite Ann Arbor bookstore, Shaman's Drum, and picked up an anthology of Ann Arbor writers. I didn't do much reading. We flew out on the red-eye and I tried to read an Ian Rankin mystery thriller, but I retained nothing and had to start over. Sleeping was not something we did much of since we had a lot of people and places to see in just a few days. It turns out that being underslept does not lend itself to reading.

So I returned and spent a few days catching up on sleep, laundry and all that other stuff. I finally got back to my usual reading pace and have now got lots of books to write about. My husband and I were invited by friends for Thanksgiving and still we did not eat turkey. I could get used to Thanksgiving without the bird; didn't miss it a bit.

As mentioned in my last post, blogger has some new features. I faced my fears tonight and got switched over to the new system, which is why the blog looks a bit different. There will soon be the easier archives and a list of other blogs that I recommend. It's all good. I may be able to finish out my life without having to learn html (computer language). That would be fine because I have an awful lot of books to read.

I hope your holidays were fine, that you didn't miss me too much and that you can do all your Christmas/other faiths shopping on-line.

Friday, November 10, 2006


This is the latest chapter in a series of posts that relate fiction and my life. Not exactly a memoir of reading but a memoir compared to the fiction of the years I have lived. As soon as I switch over to the "new, improved" blogger, and as soon as I learn how to use the "new, improved" features, I will endeavor to make it easier for readers to find the earlier chapters in the archives. For now, you can search in past months. I usually post a new chapter about once a month.


In 1949, I turned two and experienced the first major change of my life. After four years of living with my father's parents, my mom and dad finally got their own home and we moved to it in November. Until then I had been the only child in a house with five adults. Actually my Aunt Lois, who had been around since I was born, married in 1948 and moved to Chicago with her new husband, now my Uncle Frank. But two parents and two grandparents were a good number of big people for me to interact with and be loved by and from whom to get lots of attention. By the end of 1949, I spent each day alone with my mom in our new house until my dad came home from work.

Independence and change were also keynotes in the world at large. Ireland achieved independence from Great Britain and China became a communist country under Mao Tse-tung. India, having gained independence in the previous year, adopted their first constitution and were ruled by their own Prime Minister, Nehru. East and West Germany were established as separate republics with one of those insane arrangements that come out of world wars: Berlin, the country's capital city falls in East Germany and so was also split into two, leaving some West Germans stranded within the communist side of the country. Vietnam officially became a country, but in Korea, civil war and communism were stirring up trouble which would lead to the next war for the United States. Apartheid was established in South Africa, officially splitting that country between the ruling whites and the oppressed blacks. All kinds of splitting into halves and breaking up of old patterns. How odd that the same sort of thing was going on in our family.

In the realms of science and technology, cortisone was discovered and neomycin developed. I would be part of the first generation to have infections treated with antibiotics. Militarily, the United States Airforce flew a jet across the country in three house and forty-six minutes while the USSR tested its first atomic bomb. The US also launched a guided missile 250 miles into the air, the highest altitude ever reached by man at that time.

In film, "Hamlet" won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Actor (Lawrence Olivier.) I tried watching this movie on DVD and found that Shakespeare works better for me as live theatre. "Treasure of the Sierra Madre," a tale of gold fever and distrust in Mexico, won Best Director (John Huston) and "Johnny Belinda," about a deaf and dumb girl who is molested by ignorant country people, got Jane Wyman an Oscar for Best Actress.

It was a big year for pop music with songs that have become standards: Bali Ha'I, Some Enchanted Evening, I Love Those Dear Hearts and Gentle People, Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend, and (my favorite) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The musical, "South Pacific" was a big hit in New York theatre.

When I finished reading the books for 1949, I had completed reading through an entire decade and had read over 200 novels and short-story collections. That felt like quite a milestone until I realized I still had six decades to go. In any case, historical fiction dominated the year in both the bestseller list and other more literary fiction. World War II was adddressed in only three of the novels, but one of those, Guard of Honor, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Two of the historical bestsellers were stories about the life of Jesus Christ and the beginnings of the Christian church.

My favorite novels of the year included Nineteen Eighty Four, by George Orwell, which introduced the "Big Brother" who is still watching us; The Egyptian, by Mika Waltari, for being exciting and telling the story of Egypt's first attempt to worship only one God; Cutlass Empire, by F Van Wyck Mason, an early Pirates of the Carribean; and The Fires of Spring, which made me a Michener fan for good. The novels portraying contemporary life were generally somewhat weak but showed a society becoming obsessed with money and getting ahead in business. Those being traditional American pursuits, indicate a country getting back to regular life after the war.

Certainly getting ahead with a regular life was the aim of my parents. When the year opened they were still living with my dad's parents in Pittsburgh, PA, still saving money and still watching the papers for a home to buy. But in July, my mother realized she was pregnant when she asked for an onion sandwich as a bedtime snack. As she tells it, she then "put her foot down" and declared to my dad that she would not have another baby in that house. They found a two bedroom Cape Cod in an outlying area called Perrysville, which is a suburb now but was out in the country then. The house was near a bus line so my dad could get to work on public transportation and they bought a car for my mom to get around. The house was also close to a shopping area with a good butcher store, always important to women of German descent.

I have vivid memories of that last year at my grandparents'. A front porch stretched across the entire house, surrounded by a low wall with pillars to hold up the roof above it. I spent hours out there swinging by myself on the cushioned metal glider and watching the cars go by. On either side of the cement steps leading down to the street were spirea bushes which had lacy white flowers in the spring and small black berries in the fall. I made up lots of games and stories for myself with those flowers and berries and learned that birds could eat the berries but I couldn't.

My best time out on that porch was the late afternoon, while dinner was being prepared, when I would watch for my dad to come walking up the sidewalk from the streetcar stop at the corner. But one day, standing on one of those concrete steps, I lost my balance and fell to the first concrete landing. Oh my, this was a bigger tragedy than the time I fell off the bed. It hurt a lot. I got a big bump on the head which developed into what was called a goose egg in my family and plenty of bloody scrapes on my knees. After that I became extremely cautious about stairs, although it is possible that my grandmother, who was scared of everything, had made me overly careful about stairs and steps already and this contributed to my fall. I was a timid kid when it came to physical activity and there are few times in my life when I have felt comfortable or competent in any sport, I don't like climbing hills or mountains and I hate going out in boats.

I also remember sitting on my grandpa's lap and having him tell me over and over that I was his honey. At some family celebration, perhaps my birthday, I was allowed a sip of wine. The taste was so odd and the smell so pungent that I mistakenly took a bite out of the fragile glass, causing everyone at the table to laugh and to tell the story many times over. What I learned from this was that drinking and parties and drawing attention to myself were fun. I have always loved parties and at times in my life I have liked drinking way too much.

The basement at my grandparents' was another special location for me. Grandma would take me down there with her when she did the laundry. She had a washing machine but in those days there was no spin cycle. She used a device called a mangle, through which she would feed the wet, dripping clothes from the washer. It would squeeze out the water and drop the clothes into a basket. Then it was up the stairs that led out to the backyard where the clothes were hung on the line. I was entranced by the mangle and never tired of watching her do that backbreaking job. Outside, it was my job to hand her the clothespins.

Also in the basement was the huge coal furnace and a room where the coal was stored. I remember the big truck that would deliver the coal, dumping it into a shute on the side of the house that mysteriously led to the coal room in the basement. I was not afraid of those basement stairs or any of the rooms down there, but I was never afraid of anything when I was with my grandma. It must be that she held all the fear and made me feel safe.

For me, life at my grandparents' was paradise and leaving there was wrenching. But it was not paradise for my parents and they were ecstatic to finally have a place of their own. I remember nothing about the move. All I know is that one day we were living in a strange new house. I had my own room, after sleeping in my parents' room all my life up to then, and I would wake in the night feeling alone and afraid. My parents thought I was having nightmares but I sensed a large and threatening presence in my room that scared me to death. I would cry and Daddy would come to carry me to the kitchen where there was a light on the stove. There he would walk with me in his arms until I fell asleep again.

We moved in November and the first disaster was the furnace blowing up, which I also do not remember. This was a huge emergency because there was no extra money left and Daddy had to borrow from his sister to get a new furnace. During the day in our new home, it was just me and Mom. She was usually busy cleaning and I am sure having fun setting up her own home, but I was lonely and I missed my grandmother terribly. I would settle into a corner of the living room with a pile of my mom's magazines and "read" them aloud to myself. In my memories of the first months there, it was always dark and gloomy which is probably because it was the middle of winter and there were trees surrounding the house. I longed to be back in what seemed like the warmth and love of our former home. Little did I know that things were about to get even worse when my sister Linda would be born the following spring.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles, New Directions Books, 1949, 318 pp
Paul Bowles spent more of his life as a composer than as a writer. The Sheltering Sky is his first and best-known novel, based on his own travels in North Africa and his version of existentialism.

Port Moresby and his wife Kit leave New York City after WWII and travel through North Africa and the Sahara. They are very young and their marriage is in trouble. They are in Africa for different reasons. Actually Port doesn't quite know why he is there, but Kit is following him for the sake of love.

I did not like the book for the first half because they are both such weak and confused people so that there seemed to be no point to the story besides pointlessness. That is not my understanding of existentialism and Port has no reason, or at least none is given, for his despair. I did like the author's explanation of the difference between a tourist and a traveler on page 14:
"Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, a traveler, belonging no more to one place than the next, moves slowly, over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another."

In Book Two, it becomes Kit's story and then it gets better and even exciting. The underlying sense of dread, present from the first page, becomes life experience. Kit is a more developed character, though still a bit flat. The ending is ambiguous. Tragic perhaps, but possibly a breakthrough for Kit. The issue here is the clash and difficulties of co-existence between Westerners and non-Western peoples. Clearly still a world issue in today's times.

The Heat of the Day, Elizabeth Bowen, Alfred A Knopf, 1949, 372 pp
I don't know about this book. The story was good. A woman in England during WWII, has a lover and a son. She learns that her lover may be a spy for the enemy. You don't find out until near the end whether or not he is.

The writing is very exquisite. I had to read slowly because the parsing of sentences was so English, but when she was good, I loved the way she put things. The characters were well defined and each had a voice. The setting of London during bombings, black-outs and food shortages is made very real.

I think the trouble is that you want to admire Stella, the main character, but she is not really admirable. She is a woman trying to survive in that time and place, wanting love, but she is not all that strong.

The Golden Apples, Eudora Welty, Harcourt Brace and Company, 1949, 244 pp
This is a collection of short stories which are all about the same Southern town and people in it, covering a couple generations. Except for the first story, "Shower of Gold", I did not find this book as enjoyable as her earlier ones.

As usual, there reside here a cast of unique individuals, which is one thing I like about Welty. Her characters are one of a kind, not archetypes, the way people are in real life. Another thing I like, even though it means wading through so much description, is her creation of the place. By the end of the book, I felt that I knew my way around the town of Morgana and what sort of weather they had, how it smelled, etc. I wonder if some of that ability to describe place is getting lost in today's writing because we have so much film and video around us.

My only problem was the stories themselves, in which very little actually happened. They were more like character studies. But I did realize that preserved here is an era of the American South that is gone and that was worth writing about and worth reading.

Here are the award winning books for 1949:

The Pulitzer Prize:
Guard of Honor, James Gould Cozzens, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc, 1949, 631 pp
I had never heard of this book and that may be because it is highly dated. It concerns only three days on a base of the American Army Air Force in Ocarana, Florida during World War II. At that time, the Air Force was not yet a separate branch of the military but part of the Army and much of the might of air power was being developed as WWII was fought.

In those three days everything that could go wrong at such a base, does. In addition, much of the trouble has racism at its root. There is a cast of at least 20 characters (and about 10 main characters), so Cozzens uses the circumstances as a frame on which to do character studies of these numerous men and women. The women include WACS and officers' wives. He also throws in a sort of philosophy of war and army life.

So much goes wrong by the second day that I expected a big tragic ending. Instead, it all simmers down and gets approximately sorted out, so that you understand that life will go on. I suppose that could be a motto of war and army life.

Generally it was all "good" writing, as it would be taught in English class and newspaper writer training. I found it much too wordy, somewhat pedantic and never really gripping or exciting. The ending was unforgiveable after 550 pages of build-up. I can see why literature needed a Hemingway to come along.

Newbery Award ( for children's/ young adult fiction):
King of the Wind, Marguerite Henry, Rand McNally and Company, 1948, 173 pp
An Arabian horse, his faithful horseboy and a cat named Grimalkin, travel from Morocco to France to England. They face and survive many troubles but Sham, the horse, becomes the first to breed a new line of racehorses for Britian and the world.

The story is well told, fast-paced and Agba, the boy, is loyal and steadfast. An old Arabian story goes that when Allah created the horse, he said to the wind, "I will that a creature come from thee. Condense thyself." And the wind condensed itself and the result was the horse!

Caldecott Medal Award (for children's picture book):
The Big Snow, Berta and Elmer Hader, The Macmillan Company, 1948, 43 pp
Nice illustrations, typical for the times. All the animals get ready for winter, snow comes, local people put out seeds to feed them, winter passes. There is even a groundhog who comes out on February second.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Little Sister, Raymond Chandler, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1949, 214 pp
This was good because Chandler can't be bad, but it had some new stylistic oddities about Marlowe's state of mind. The PI was more dreary than usual and the mystery itself was hard to follow.

This time it is Hollywood people mixed up with criminals and the little sister is a sanctimonious mid-western young woman who of course turns out to be not so pure after all.

O Shepard Speak, Upton Sinclair, The Viking Press, 1949, 579 pp
This is the final and tenth book in the World's End Series. The series has been an adventure in learning and understanding the history of the two world wars, Europe, economics and politics. In this volume, the second world war ends and Lanny starts a "peace program" with money left to him by an old friend of his mother's.

Sinclair ties up all the loose ends about the various people who have been with Lanny all along. Roosevelt dies, Truman takes over, the bomb is dropped, the UN founded and the Cold War begins with the Soviet Union.

I still have plenty to learn about what happened next and I wonder who will take Sinclair's place. I read this book in three days. It was intense.

Knight's Gambit, William Faulkner, Random House Inc, 1949, 246 pp
I read this off and on over several months. It was not gripping. It is a set of short stories and one novella, all about the lawyer Gavin Stevens, who was a main character in Intruder in the Dust, which I read for 1948. Steven's wisdom and tolerance for the ways of his local people are the theme or thread that runs through the stories.

When a crime is involved, as it is in each of these tales, Stevens is the man who can suss out the perpetrator. It is never what it seems and his ability to follow a data trail is prodigious, but he has a certain sympathy or empathy for the criminal. At times though, even the reader can't see how he figured it out.

The Season of Comfort, Gore Vidal, EP Dutton & Co Inc, 1949, 253 pp
This is a family story, which culminates in Bill breaking free of an overbearing and slightly crazy mother, only to go off to fight in World War II. The head of this family is a Virginia politician who was once a Vice President when Wilson was President, although it is fiction. Yes, a little confusing. You learn all this in the back story, but this man is now out of office. The daughter is Bill's mother.

The story goes back and forth in time until Bill is old enough to be the main character. I was not thrilled or enlightened in any way but the story pulled me along and was interesting as a story. I think Williwaw, his first novel, was the most powerful so far.

The Plum Tree, Mary Ellen Chase, The Macmillan Company, 1949, 98 pp
This short little book would more acurately be called a novella. It takes place in a Home for Aged Women. Three of the residents have suddenly gone bonkers and will have to be moved to different facilities for the mentally ill.

Miss Emma Davis, nurse and co-owner of the home, uses all her wit, caring and energy to ensure a smooth transition for these women and the remaining residents. It is a wonderfully told story and meant a lot to me because of my dad's experiences in a modern "home" for aged people. If only all such facilities handled people with that much sensitivity and in such a personal manner.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Here begin reviews of the other books I read from 1949; books that I chose because of the author or because they are still good literature.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell, Harcourt Brace and Company, 1949, 314 pp
This is the classic, chilling, effective portrait of life in a totalitarian society. It is all very controlled, no strong emotions are allowed, all is duty to the society. There are continuous wars occuring (how much like today), history has been officially "reinterpreted" and of course not a hint of dissent is permitted.

The main character works as a sort of civil servant. He has memories of the past and in fact is involved in his job as a cog in the wheel of the alteration of history. He has a love affair with a woman who is more subversive that he in her thoughts. (This is the book from which we got such expressions as Big Brother Is Watching You, thought police, double-think, etc.) They are found out, he is busted, tortured and brought back into line.

When I was young, we used to sort of joke about this book. Then 1984 came and went, duly noted but still not taken seriously. I am taking it seriously now. The invasion of privacy, the attempt to control thinking and demand a slavish attitude ("whoever is not with us is against us"), the continuous wars and the sense that there is some overall authority who is running all this without the consent of the people. Especially the carefully edited "news" of what is going on in the world. In Nineteen Eighty Four, the "proles" (meaning the lower class, uneducated, everyday people, whom I think of as the WalMart people) are left alone. This was also true in Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. I found myself wondering if somewhere amongst these common people is the spirit that will save us.

The Fires of Spring, James A Michener, Random House Inc, 1949, 436 pp
I read this book back in 1998. It made a big impression on me. I have since gotten the idea that it is not thought of highly by some literary people. I don't care. From the first page, I never wanted to stop reading it. It is the story of the first 26 years of David Harper, a boy raised in a poorhouse near Philadelphia, PA, who grows up to be a writer. He comes across as a true hero.

The book is bursting with life, the characters and David himself are so appealing. It is a coming of age story, a tale of overcoming humble beginnings and I now know that it is fairly autobiographical and now realize that it was highly influenced by Charles Dickens. In fact, it hit me the way David Copperfield hit me. I am still reading Michener with pleasure.

Wise Blood, Flannery O'Conner, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1949, 232 pp
Here is the female Faulkner. I hope she wouldn't mind me calling her that. This is dark stuff, not for the unstable of mind, not for the easily depressed. It is a novel without hope.

The two main characters become what they abhor, especially Haze, a man who meets a terrible end. All the characters are highly disturbed and out of touch with other people. She shows how madness carries on from parents to children because the madness creates very bad parents. Also how overbearing, oppressive, fanatic Christian teaching can create madness, how loneliness can create madness.

I was highly impressed. When the dark side of humanity is portrayed with such powerful writing, we do not need horror novels or movies. It would be good though to have a workable plan to deal with this dark side. It would be fatal to ignore it or pretend it does not exist or let ourselves be lulled into thinking it can be electric shocked, lobotomized or drugged out of us.

Hunter's Horn, Harriette Arnow, Macmillan, 1949, 568 pp
I have read Arnow's most well known book, The Dollmaker, at least twice and will probably read it again when I get to 1954, when it was published. It is one of my favorite books of all time. I hadn't realized that she wrote anything else until I came across this novel in a used bookstore. What a powerful book! What a great writer.

Nunn Balew, a poor white Kentucky farmer, is obsessed with hunting a fox. He cannot win or get ahead as a farmer and has realized this and run out of hope. But he feels that if he can get that fox his life will change and he will somehow be able to build up his farm. He sacrifices the comfort and happiness of his wife and five children to do it. And he actually gets the fox and is able to establish his farm, yet loses the love of his family by not fully communicating to them.

The end of this novel is devastating. I doubt that I will ever forget it.

The Beginning and the End, Naguib Mafouz, Doubleday, 1949, 412 pp
Naguib Mafouz passed away just recently. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988 and was one of the first authors to write novels in Arabic. He has written a long string of books which only began to be translated into English in the 1980s.

In this book, an Egyptian family in Cairo falls into poverty after the father dies and they lose his income. They were only barely middle-class when he was alive. The mother stoically keeps the family going and the daughter must go out and earn money as a seamstress, which is a source of dishonor for a woman in 1930s Egypt. Two of the sons finish school and assume positions; one in the ministry of education and the youngest in the military. A third son has always been a reprobate, but he finds income through unsavory connections with crime and drug dealing and is the one who puts up the money to get the other boys started in life.

All of the children have various love interests, but it is the middle son who sacrifices his own wants to help his younger brother and yet finally finds a wife, while all the others lives end in tragedy. The story is a study in the degrading effects of poverty on otherwise fairly normal people. Each one has a character trait that becomes emphasized all out of proportion by circumstances. In that respect, the novel becomes universal rather than only Egyptian.

The Godseeker, Sinclair Lewis, Random House Inc, 1949, 415 pp
This was a fine book and much better than I expected. Aaron Gadd is the son of the dour deacon of a Congregational church in a small New England town in the 1840s. The family also farms. Aaron is raised in an atmosphere of gloom and doom, sin and hell fire, coldness and cruelty. But he is an irrepressible lad, so he leaves home and becomes a successful carpenter in a nearby town. He has friends, he drinks and even has a lover. His upbringing haunts him though and at a Revival he gets the fervor to go out West and become a missionary to the Indians.

The West for Aaron becomes Minnesota and the story becomes a history of the settling of that state, complete with trappers, traders, missionaries, Indians and heavy weather. All of that is good, but the real story is about a young man finding his own beliefs about God, people, love, work and society. Aaron finds in himself a purpose to bring about understanding amongst all races. While he matures and faces the world as it really is, he keeps trying to do his part.

The characters are distinct, the story telling is masterful and the message comes through without much preaching. I don't know why these later novels of his are considered inferior to his early ones because I think they are excellent.