Quarterly Book Review 1.2
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
As the daughter of a hard-working yet distracted farmer obsessed with prohibition and phonetic spelling, Lily Casey Smith quickly learned to pick up the slack and work hard if she wanted to make something of her life. Without finishing school herself, she became an elementary school teacher and rode her horse 500 miles, solo, to her first teaching assignment on the frontier. She later took on the big city of Chicago and learned some hard lessons about trust before returning to the Southwest. Lily weathered all manner of conflict, which taught her to think and to fend for herself, but also to close herself off from people in many ways. She packed so much life into her years, she probably lived about five times as much as the rest of us have. She was a woman of great spirit who understood herself and was dedicated to achieving her goals. Lily was a planner and a dreamer, but did it get in the way actually living and loving her life?
Skeeter was raised by a nanny who loved her as if she were her own daughter. But how much did Skeeter really know about this woman who cared for her during the day and then went home to her own children each night? Now a vibrant woman in her 20s, Skeeter looks around her and realizes that the nannies who raised herself and her childhood friends are now raising the children of her peers. It’s as if these wealthy white women have forgotten that they once loved these poor black women who raised them from birth, and now treat them as some kind of lesser species.
Skeeter has had a taste of life outside this small Southern town and just can’t seem to re-acclimate herself to the way things are – as much as those around her may demand that she do just that. She boldly vows to write the truth as she sees it. Working in secret with the women known to their employers as “the help,” she sets out to write a book to reveal the unknown lives of these women who are dependent on those who pay them and mistreat them – the same women who they cared for from infancy. Needless to say, she causes quite the scandal around town, all the while making her mother a nervous wreck – however will her rebel of a daughter find a decent man to marry??
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
Every family has its secrets – some darker than others. Set in a time not so very long ago, when developmental disabilities were a thing to be ashamed of and hidden away, this book follows the lives of family members who are unaware of the existence of one another. When a father is unable to bear the burden of an “abnormal” child, he takes matters into his own hands. His plans are foiled by a well-intentioned nurse who sees value in this unwanted baby girl, while his wife sinks into a life-long depression, unable to deal with the loss of a daughter she has never laid eyes on. Meanwhile the baby grows up to be a happy and well adjusted woman, unaware that the mother she has always known was actually a kind nurse who rescued her from a lifetime in an institution. This is a story of how people’s lives can be deeply impacted by a single choice – good or bad – whether their own choice, or someone else’s.
You’ve probably heard of Three Cups of Tea, the inspirational story of how Greg Mortenson found himself in Korphe, a small village in the Karakoram mountains of Pakistan, which led to founding the Central Asia Institute. Greg’s story continues in Stones into Schools, with an account of the CAI’s work in Afghanistan. Greg focuses in particular on their work in the Wakhan. Formerly part of the Silk Road, the people of this region have been basically abandoned by the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves.
This is an epic story of hauling building materials thousands of kilometers – across international borders, around and over mountains. It’s about people who are willing to risk everything for the sake of educating girls and boys who are neglected by everyone else. It’s about going beyond the edge of the known world and reaching out to people who have been forgotten by everyone else. But what does it mean to leave one’s family to accomplish these things? And how does it feel to realize you’ve started to respond more to The Powers That Be, rather than serving the marginalized people you love, and who inspired this endeavor in the first place?
Note: this post was written on 4/16/11 and scheduled to auto-post on 4/19/11. On 4/18/11 I discovered new controversies about Greg Mortenson, including skepticism about his credibility. I’ll refrain from adding my commentary for the moment…