2012

The King of Kings County Whitney Terrell

Author Visit

We were very fortunate to be able to have Mr. Terrell come to our meeting to discuss his two novels and a novel he is working on to be published soon. It was an amazing evening.

Jack Acheson tells his story of growing up in Kansas City in the 1950's. His father, Alton Acheson, was always telling Jack about his hero, Tom Durant. Tom was the president of Union Pacific Railroad and made his fortune buying up undeveloped land cheap, then building the railroad on it. Alton saw the undeveloped land around the Kansas City area in the same way, but for future highways and suburban neighborhoods in Kings County, Kansas. A state line runs through Kansas City separating the two states and counties. Alton saw the need for future highways connecting through the two counties to make distance into the city quicker.. With an interstate, people could now move out of the city into suburbs in Kings County.

Alton did not have the money to back his ideas so he took them to the Bowen Company, (he was an "associate" of theirs). Prudential Bowen, the president of the company, had bought several acres of land in Kansas City, and had built a large shopping area and residential areas. Alton pitched his idea to Prudential then through orchestrated meetings and happenings, convincing the company and others to back him. He took Jack along with him on all his endeavors to be his cohort in manipulating or causing events to happen.

Alton was to work with Nick Garaciello, an employee of one of the investors. Nick had two children, Nikki, the daughter,and Lonnie, the son. Lonnie attended school with Jack. Alton and Nick were to go into Kings County and buy up farm lands so that they could have a thoroughfare for the highway and land for the suburbs. Nick and Alton would take their two families under the guise of picnics so they could survey the land and then approach the owners for a buyout.

Prudential Bowen's son, Henry, had a daughter named Geanie. Jack had a crush on her and eventually when his dad was doing business with her dad, they struck up a conversation. Eventually, Jack, Geanie, Lonnie, and Nikki became friends and started doing things together. Tragedy befalls one of them and the remaining three stay connected for many years.

At the same time, Alton and his family, who rented an apartment in downtown Kansas City, realized their was money to make by getting their neighbors to want to move out of the neighborhood and into the suburbs. One way to get people to move out was to drive them out. Alton began his own business providing loans to black families to be able to purchase homes in his own neighborhood. In the 1950's, there were still segregated neighborhoods. As black families began to move in, more white families moved out.

This is a historic fictional novel of any major city, USA in the 1950's. Since it is based in Kansas City though, we can't help but compare it to its own history. J.C. Nichol's was a land developer who built the Plaza shopping center which has an annual light ceremony every Thanksgiving. Nichols built neighborhoods which had clauses that no African American or Jewish people were to be allowed to buy property. I-35 and I-70 connect through Jackson County. Missouri, and Johnson County, Kansas.

It is a story of childhood, relationships between workers, a man and a woman, a father and a son. money, greed, race, and the Great American Dream.

Everything a great book needs.

 

The Huntsman Whitney Terrell

 

When Stan Granger set out to pull in his fishing lines that day, he didn't expect to pull up a body. He had done this before, many times. The Missouri River was known for bodies being dumped in Kansas City, then floating down the river to be snagged in lines or brush. The body was a young white woman, one Stan had seen before. Stan keeps the information to himself from the police. The suspect, Booker Short, had been working at the hunting lodge where the victim, Carissa Sayers, had stayed and hunted with her father and his buddies. Mercury Chapman, one of the original members of the Lodge, had hired Booker when Booker came to town, skipping his probation, looking for work. Booker claimed to Mercury that Mercury owed it to him since his grandfather had saved Mercury's life in WWII.

While at the Lodge, Booker and Carissa become involved. Carissa's father, Judge Sayers, is very possessive and controlling of Carissa. She purposely does things that she knows will irritate her father to make him mad and to feel like she has some control of her life. Her relationship with Booker sets off a chain of events that ends with her ultimate death.

 

Snowflower and the Secret Fan Lisa See

3.25

This is the story of Lily and her 'laotong' Snow Flower. A laotong is considered an old same. Meaning, the two girls are matched together being born of the same year, month, etc. They have a ceremony which binds them together for life. Throughout the years they communicate with writings on a fan, embroidery on handkerchiefs, and compose stories in their secret code called nu shu. This secret code of women's writings go back centuries.

Lily is a young girl living in 19th century China in a small remote village of Puwei. Her family does not have much, but when Madame Wang, the matchmaker sees Lily's feet before binding, she finds them delicate and small, realizing she will make a fine match with a man of better status. She matches Lily with Snow Flower to be laotongs. Snow Flower comes from a more prosperous family in the Tongkou village. From here on the girls will do many things together at the same time including there foot binding. Foot binding was very painful but essential for a young girl for her future status. Women who were not foot-bound, were generally servants.

As the girls grow older, they have families, and the change in status switch between the two girls. Lily finds out later, that Snow Flower, who she has idolized, has been keeping a secret from her and Lily's family has known this all along.

This is a book of historical fiction. It gives you a glimpse of what life was like in China a century ago for women, men, and the family. It was important for a woman to have a son. A son would stay home for life and bring his bride and raise his family in his childhood home. He would always look after his mother. A daughter was a burden. She waited on the family, cleaned, and spent her days upstairs in the women's chamber learning skills for her future husband. When she married, she would leave her home and village to move in with her husband's family to take care of them. The Chinese customs and traditions are informative, however, not all these practices pertain to all parts of China.

 

The Moonflower Vine Jetta Carleton

2.5

Mary Jo, the youngest of the Soames daughters, begins the narrative of her family on a return visit to the family farm in the 1950's located in southwest Missouri.Her parents began their life there in the late 1890's. The Soames had 4 daughters. Jessica was the oldest, then Leonie, Mathy, and Mary Jo. Every summer the daughters return for a visit, except Mathy who died as a young adult. They would gather at the farm to coordinate the time when the moonflower vine would open in the evening for the one night a year that it blossomed. Mary Jo sets the stage of the stories of each family members. Although each member has their own story, it is narrated by the author, not the family member, like Mary Jo's. Each person's section also intertwines with the other members so it isn't really only about that person.

Matthew was a school teacher and administrator. He was ruled by God, his work, and his farm. His family always came last. During the school year the family would live in town but when the summer came, they returned to the family farm to work the land. Everyone was always working during those summer months. They rose early and had chores all day. However, Matthew didn't enjoy being at home with his family. He didn't like the noise of his family. They interrupted his life and what he wanted to do. What he wanted was to be by himself in his own world. Although Matthew was a devout christian man, that didn't stop him from eying and lusting over the young women students in his school. He may not have physically had an affair, but he did mentally and emotionally. He would stay late at school to be with one under the guise of tutoring.

His family felt his absence and his wife Callie, knew and felt his emotional and physical withdrawal from their relationship. When a man traveling through town became a hired hand, Jessica fell in love with him and they ran away together to marry. Leonie, who was the perfect daughter, was perfect to a fault and always put her family in front of everyone, even herself. Mathy was the free spirit who was always taking off by herself since she was a young child. She was very adventurous and broke her father's heart when she ran away with the one student that Matthew had conflicts with all through the student's time at school. Mary Jo was much younger than her sisters. She would leave the farm and travel to New York City for her career. Callie was the hardworking mom and wife who only wanted to please her husband and raise her children. She didn't have an interest in studies, (she was illiterate), which angered Matthew.

The book does give us an insight to life in the Ozarks during the first half of the century. It was unfortunate that the book we read had a foreword by Jane Smiley. She compared this book to "To Kill A Mockingbird". That set us up to expect more than this book delivered. Recently a manuscript of Carleton's was found and has now been published. The title is "Clair de Lune."

 

Unaccustomed Earth
Jhumpa Lahiri

2.5

This is a book of collected stories written by Lahiri.

Part One consists of 5 separate stories. Part Two titled, "Huma and Kaushik", is three stories. The first is by Huma, the second by Kaushik, and the third is a combination of the two once their lives reunite in Rome when they are adults.

All stories have the common theme of immigration into the USA from the Bengal region in India. The Bengali parents move to the States and the children become americanized. There is a conflict between the children wanting to follow American traditions and clothing, whereas the parents want to hang on to their traditions and socialize with other Bengali families. Once the children are grown, they marry with white Americans infusing the traditions of the two. Sometimes they work and sometimes not.

The tone and style of all stories read the same so that they flow together. I never felt a difference from one story to the other. This book is an interesting look into the Bengali culture and the experience of immigration.

 

Plainsong Kent Haruf

3

The small town of Holt, Colorado, could actually be any small farming town, in any State, in any time period. In fact, there is never an inference as to what year this is with the exception that when you paid the newspaper carrier, you received a paper stub for your receipt. I remember these from the 1980's and before.

Tom Guthrie is a high school teacher with a wife and 2 young sons ages 8 and 9. His wife, Ella, stays in the dark guest room suffering from depression. We never learn exactly why she is depressed. Guthrie is left to take care of the land, house, and children along with his own job at the school. At school he is under pressure to pass a student who is not doing his work and is a bully. The school just wants him to graduate and leave,  whereas Guthrie does not want him to be the exception. Through out the book, this student, Russell, will cause trouble for Guthrie and his family.

Victoria Roubideaux is a high school teenager who is kicked out of her house by her mother when she becomes pregnant. She goes to her high school teacher, Maggie Jones, for help. Ms. Jones makes arrangements for her to stay with 2 old bachelor brothers, the McPherons

The McPheron brothers lost their parents when they were young and the two have stayed on the farm ever since. When Ms Jones ask them to let Victoira stay with them, they take her in. They develop a bond and relationship with this young woman and her unborn child.

The book is written without using quotation marks for the dialogue. At first you have to figure out who is talking but it doesn't take long to understand who is talking to whom. The flow of words is smooth as is the storyline. It is a simple story of a few people in a small town, how they look after each other, and how their lives intertwine.

 

People of the Book

Geraldine Brooks

 

3.5

In the Spring of 1996, Dr Hanna Heath, a conservator of rare manuscripts, received a call at 2 A.M. telling her that the Sarajevo Haggadah had turned up. The Sarajevo Haggadah was a illuminated Hebrew manuscript created in the 1400's in Spain. At that time, the Jewish belief was firmly against illustrations of any kind based on a commandment in exodus. Hanna was asked to come to Sarajevo to document the book, a book thought to be gone, perhaps lost forever during the book burnings in WWII.

Hanna meticulously takes apart the codex to research and repair the book so that it can be displayed in a museum. As she takes the book apart, she finds an insect wing, notices that the binding clasps are missing, wine stains on a page, saltwater stains on another page, and a white hair. Wanting to know the history of the book and the people behind it, she travels to various places and seeks research acquaintances for information on what she has found.

Each item takes us to a different century and location.
We start in 1996 in Sarajevo where Hanna begins her journey into the history and restoration of the Haggadah.
The insect's wing takes us back to 1940 in Sarajevo where the Jewish people are being round up and their books and belongings are being destroyed. Lola, a Jewish girl, loses her family to a Jewish roundup by the Germans. She fights with friends for the cause but later they are forced to leave the group. Lola is on her own. She returns to town where a coworker of her father's, introduces her to a Muslim family to protect her. In exchange, she will work for this family. Lola recognizes the woman, Stela. Lola would pick up and deliver Stela's laundry to her. Stela's husband Serif, works in the museum where the Haggadah is stored. Serif and the museum director realize they must save the book from being destroyed by the Germans. Serif takes Lola and the book to his dear friend's home to hide them both.
From there we go back into time and find the book in Vienna, Austria 1894. Florien Mittl was given the book by the museum to repair and rebind. He was very ill with syphilis and needed a "cure" from his Jewish doctor, Dr. Hirschfeldt. The new medication would be very expensive. This was the time when the Austrians were becoming very resentful of the Jews and their prominence in society. The German nationalists wanted to weed out the Jews and other foreign influences. Mittl used the book's clasps to buy his medication from the doctor.
The book is then traced back to Venice in 1609. Catholic Priest Vistorini is in charge of reading Jewish books to see if they are in conflict with the teachings and beliefs of the Catholic Church. Rabbi Aryeh is intrusted with the Haggadah to take to his friend, the priest. He believes that the priest will read it and will find that there is nothing offensive or against the doctrines of the Catholic Church.They share kosher wine, hence the wine stains.
Hanna now is investigating where the salt water stains came from. This takes her to 1492, Tarragona. David Ben Shoushan buys illustrations from a mute street boy. He is going to use them to create a Haggadah for a wedding gift for his nephew. The Spanish Inquisition is arresting and torturing Jews. David's daughter, Ruti, is given David's completed Haggadah to take to the binder. When the soldiers come to round up the Jews, Ruti escapes with the Haggadah.
A white hair is found in the book. Through testing, Hanna discovers that the hair is that of a cat that dates back to1480, Seville. Cat hair was used for paint brushes. A young African Muslim girl finds herself kidnapped and now brought to Seville to be a slave. She is dropped off at a calligrapher's studio. She was a very fine and talented artist in portraits. At that time, it was considered a sin to paint images and idols. She is hired by the Emir to paint likenesses of the Emira when he is away. She later befriends the Emira and when their safety, along with the Emira's brother are at risk. The girl and the Emira's brother, are given to a Jewish doctor. The doctor has the girl paint illustrations of the Haggadah for his deaf, mute son.

This wonderfully researched book is very involved with different characters and subplots. It is also insightful to the restoration of old manuscripts. The devastation of human life in the name of religion and purification dates back many, many centuries. When I finished reading the book, I listed on paper, starting from the back of the book, chronologically to see timeline of the book. It was easier this way to follow the book's travels. An excellent read and discussion for a book club.

 

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz L. Frank Baum

3

When a cyclone hits a farm in rural Kansas, Dorothy and her dog Toto, are in the little house when they are swept up by the cyclone. They travel over many miles. The house sets itself down in the land of the Munchkins and the Munchkins thank her for killing the Wicked Witch of the East. All that is left of the witch is her silver shoes. The Witch of the North arrives and tells Dorothy to go to the Wizard of Oz to help her get home. Oz is in the center of the country and  is surrounded by a desert. To the north is the where the Good Witch lives, south is the of the land of the Quadlings, where Glinda, the Good Witch lives, and to the east is where the Wicked Witch of the East lives with the Winkies, whom she has made her slaves. On her way to Oz, Dorothy meets the Scarecrow, who wants a brain, the Woodman, who wants a heart, and the Cowardly Lion, who wants to be brave. They travel to Oz and must overcome obstacles getting there. Once there, they each meet a version of Oz, who wants Dorothy to kill the Wicked Witch of the West.

They set out to the east where they meet many dangers and obstacles to overcome.

We all know the story, primarily from the movie. I had actually never read the book. There is so much more to the story, the towns, the people/characters, life's lessons, and what we already have inside if we only had confidence in ourselves. This was the first book in a series of OZ books.

 

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Jamie Ford

 

3

Our story begins in the year 1986 in Seattle, Washington, at The Panama Hotel. Henry is observing the crowd that has gathered outside the old landmark. The hotel has a new owner, it has been closed since 1950, and items were being brought outside. The items had been once belonged to thirty-seven Japanese American families, who had left them there for storage while they were taken away to internment camps after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. As Henry watched the items come out, he saw a familiar parasol being opened. He wondered if there might just be something in those belongings that would belong to his childhood sweetheart, Keiko.

Henry was twelve years old when his father stopped speaking to him. His parents were Chinese and they wanted him to be American. His father insisted Henry speak only English in the house. Henry attends a white school, not the Chinese school, on scholarship. He works in the cafeteria during lunch and also after school. It is in the cafeteria that he meets, Keiko, a Japanese American.They become friends but Henry must keep their friendship a secret as his father sees the Japanese as his enemy. His father also makes Henry wear a "I am Chinese" button on his coat so that he won't be mistaken as Japanese. The one true friend Henry has is Sheldon, a black jazz saxophonist, who plays on the street and whom Henry gives his lunch everyday. They maintain their friendship throughout their adulthood. When Keiko's family is sent to live in a camp, Henry finds a way to visit her, via the cafeteria lady, then later through one road trip with Sheldon, and letters.

The story goes back and forth between the 1950's to 1986, where Henry's wife, Ethel, has just passed away from breast cancer. His son, Marty, is in college, and through the years, Henry and Marty haven't been close. It was always Ethel that held the family together and communicated between the two, just like Henry's parents.

This is a good history lesson of the times in Seattle during WWll, the "roundup" of the Japanese and Japanese Americans in the United States. We see the streets as Chinatown merges with Japantown. The Japanese destroy their Japanese belongings, pictures, anything that associates them with Japan, or, they ask friends to hide their belongings. Their abandoned property is sold leaving them nothing to return to. We hear the jazz of the streets and the clubs. Yes, Oscar Holden was a piano jazz musician in the 1940"s. We visit the inside the Japanese camps in California and then as they are moved East to Idaho.

In the end, things come full circle.

 

The Dressmaker

Kate Alcott

 

2.5

On April 10, 1912, in Cherbourg, France,  Tess walked out on her employer. She was hired as a servant, but she was also an amazing seamstress. Part of her duties was to design and sew gowns for the head mistress without any extra pay. She had heard a great ship, the Titanic, was leaving that day to head to America. This was Tess's opportunity to go to America and make her dream come true. On the docks she noticed Lady Lucille Duff Gordon, a world renown designer. She was heading to America for her fashion show. Tess approached her and as it turned out, Lucille was in need of a servant since her's had just quit. Tess was now employed and on her way to America. Lucille quickly became fond of Tess and had her move from steerage, to first class so she could be near Lucille. Of course the pretense was so that she would be there when Lucille needed her. She ran hot and cold with Tess but this was her way of manipulating her. On board, Tess met two men, Jim Bonney, a seaman, and Jack Bremerton, an older, twice divorced business man. Four nights into the trip, the Titanic hits an iceberg. There is a panic to get into lifeboats and Lady Lucille manages to get herself, her husband Cosmo, and just a few others into a boat then demands the sailors take off. Their boat was barely filled. Tess finds herself in a boat with Molly Brown, a strong business woman, and the two are the only ones who know how to row their boat. As the boats row away, they can only watch the ship sink as they listen to the final screams of the people still on the boat and now in the water. Of all the lifeboats, only one boat tried to go back to pick up any survivors. The ship Carpathia rescues all survivors and takes them to New York City.

The New York Times gets the news right away that the Titanic has hit an iceberg. No other paper publishes the news, waiting for confirmation, but the Times believes it is true and publishes the story. The editor sends Pinky Wade, a hard working woman reporter, to the harbor to interview the survivors as they get off the ship. She finds her way into a boat that is rowing out to the Carpathia with Senator William Smith. He will be in charge of the inquiry into the crash. Once in New York, a U.S. inquiry begins almost immediately by Senator William Smith.

This is the story few of us really know. We all know about the Titanic and the crash, the few survivors. But, this is the after story. There was a hearing that started in New York City, went to Washington, D.C., then back to New York.  Molly Brown, Lady Lucille and her husband Cosmo, were real. The testimony was taken directly from the Senate transcripts. Smith urged Congress and passed legislation to require sufficient lifeboats on all ships.

It is also a look into the year 1912. Woman were fighting for equal pay, equal rights, the ability to vote, and independence.. Fashions were changing. Transportation was changing. Hard working immigrants were coming to this country to better their lives. America was the land of hopes and dreams.

Destiny of the Republic

A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President

Candice Millard

 

4

James A Garfield, the 20th President Of the United States, was shot four months into his presidency by Charles Guiteau, a mentally unstable, narcissist, who believed God had told him to kill the President.

 

Garfield grew up in poverty on a farm in Ohio. He loved learning,reading, and was very self motivated. As age sixteen, he left the farm to work on the canals. After almost drowning, he realized he was saved for a purpose and went back home. His mother, Eliza, came from a family of educated people and wanted her son to have the education he would need to be a successful man. He returned to school and quickly moved up in the education system, graduating from Williams College with honors. By age twenty-six, he returned to his preparatory school to become the school's president.

 

In 1859, when an Ohio state senator died, Garfield was asked to take his place in the election. He won. A year later, the Civil War began and Garfield, who believed in equality of all men, went to fight in the war. He quickly moved up in the ranks to brigadier general. He returned to Congress to fight for the rights of the black man.

 

In 1880 at the Republican Convention, Garfield was giving the nominating address for John Sherman, when he asked a simple question of what the party wanted. They responded with, "We want Garfield". He was then nominated and won the republican nomination for president. On November 2, he won the presidential election. He was now President of the United States.

 

On July 2, 1881, as he walked into a train station, Charles Guiteau stepped out and shot Garfield two times. Guiteau was quickly arrested. Garfield died a very long and painful death on September 19. It wasn't the bullets that killed him, but the doctors who infected his wounds time and time again with unsanitary hands and instruments.

 

Candice Millard brings history to life in this book. The story starts at the United States Centennial Exhibition, a worlds fair held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to celebrate the country's first one hundred years. It was at this fair, Alexander Graham Bell brought his telephone invention. Joseph Lister, a British surgeon, tried to convince his audience of the importance of antisepsis to prevent germs and infection. Few believed him. Had only the practice of antisepsis been used for Garfield, he wouldn't have died. Bell invented a device called an induction balance, which would be able to detect the metal bullet in Garfield. It would have worked had Garfield's doctor, Dr. Bliss, allowed Bell to use it on him properly. This truly was a case of malpractice.

 

Millard also does a wonderful job at writing the state of politics at the time. It gives a better understanding of the political party and how policies change. We learn about the life and the mental illness of a man who caused the death of a president. We will never know what changes he himself would have made for this country.

 

As I have written before in my reviews, this is the way to learn and understand history.

Cutting for Stone

Abraham Verghese

3.8

Sister Mary Joseph Praise came from India to Missing Hospital in Ethiopia, seven years before the birth of her twin sons. She had met the father, Dr. Thomas Stone, on the boat from India to Africa. He was quite ill and she nursed him back to health while on the boat. For seven years she worked beside him in the operating room at the Mission Hospital. All were shocked when she went into labor, including Dr. Stone, as she had kept her pregnancy hidden. The twins were adjoined at the head and had to be separated before the delivery. Sister Mary Joseph died on the table and Dr. Stone fled. The boys, Marion and Shiva, are now being raised by Dr. Hema and Dr. Ghosh. The two doctors, after ten years, admit their love and agree to marry with the condition that they must renew their marriage every year if they choose to continue.

The time period is in the second half of the 1950's during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie. The author does a wonderful job with his descriptions of multiple topics:

Political: The government politics and struggle with revolts and failed coups. The treatment of citizens and the prison system.
Medical: Since this takes place at multiple hospitals, the one in Ethiopia and later in the United States, many medical illnesses and surgical procedures are  explained and treated.
Ethiopia: The culture, food, land, way of life is vividly and sensually described.

There are multiple characters in this book. Verghese explains each character in depth beginning with their early lives until the end. Each one has a story and history.There are also many layers to the book.

Although my fellow book club members rated this book a 4, I brought the rating down because of issues I had. I don't believe Sister Mary Joseph Praise would have had sex with Dr. Stone. Although she may have had loved him,(we really don't know much about her thoughts, as she died), and her previous sexual experience being so tragic, she would not have given in to him under the circumstances. The book was very detailed and long. I have read long books before, no problem, but I do believe the editor could have done a better job. It is as if he wrote a story about every scenario he could think of. We have criticized other authors about this. And finally, I don't want to give too much away, but Marion, now a doctor studying in Boston for a period, goes to an authentic Ethiopian restaurant at the end of a street. He finds it is owned by a woman who lived across the road from him at Missing. Marion talks to her about Genet, the girl he grew up with at Missing, and the reason he fled Ethiopia. He learns that she too is now in the States and also been at the restaurant. When later Genet shows up at Marion's house, what happens there is unrealistic, especially with Marion being a doctor. It fell apart for me after that.