Monday, September 21, 2009

Laura's Review - One of Ours

One of Ours
Willa Cather
459 pages

This is the story of Claude Wheeler, a young man who grew up on a Nebraska farm in the early 1900s. Claude is pursuing a university education at a religious college chosen by his parents, but is both unhappy with his education and uncertain about his goals. While he longs for the finer things in life that come from an advanced degree, he also has a strong sense of family loyalty and will interrupt his studies to assist with farm work when necessary. When Claude's father buys a large parcel of land from another farmer, he also decides Claude will return home and assume responsibility for the original family farm. Claude sets aside his higher ambitions and throws himself into farming. He gets married and appears set to spend the rest of his days on the farm, until World War I breaks out and Claude decides to join the American forces in France.

My copy of this book came from my local library and, unfortunately, the book jacket included huge spoilers in its first two sentences. This threatened to ruin the book for me, but I tried to make lemonade from these lemons. Since I already knew about some pivotal events in Claude's life, I read with a view toward understanding why this book won the 1923 Pulitzer Prize. Typical of Cather's work, One of Ours is filled with vivid images of the American prairie, and the first- and second-generation immigrants who worked the land. Frankfort is a conservative community; its people are steeped in their faith and rather isolated from the broader world. As the threat of war loomed large, Claude's "mother had gone up to 'Mahailey’s library,' the attic, to hunt for a map of Europe,—a thing for which Nebraska farmers had never had much need. But that night, on many prairie homesteads, the women, American and foreign-born, were hunting for a map." Cather also shows the dark side of the community when certain members of German descent are charged with "disloyalty" and subject to a hearing in court. Cather's portrayal of wartime France is also very much focused on people, much more than the fighting. It's an interesting angle.

Since One of Ours was published just a few short years after the end of World War I, it was received at a time when emotions were still quite raw. Cather's writing is, as always, superb. And her portrayal of an innocent farm boy who serves in battle would have struck a chord for just about anyone. Unfortunately once I knew how things would turn out there were sections that seemed to drag on endlessly. I probably would have given this book a higher rating had there not been spoilers ... frustrating! ( )

My original review can be found here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Gone With The Wind - Winner, 1937

Gone With The Wind
By: Margaret Mitchell
Macmillan, 1936

I don't know what else to say except that I LOVED Gone With the Wind. Earlier this year I purchased a copy for $5 at an antique store and am so glad that I will have it to reread again in the future. As a student of history, Mitchell's descriptions of life in the Deep South before, during and after the Civil War drew me in. So often the victor determines the story of a war, and so I found a long and detailed story from the side of the losers to be quite interesting. The Civil War and Reconstruction were so complicated that it helps to read about them through the lens of a story. I was often so caught up in the story of it all that I would completely forget that I was also learning about an important part of the history of our country from a perspective that I only knew about superficially. Clearly, Gone With the Wind is fiction and much must be taken with a grain of salt, but Margaret Mitchell spent tireless months checking her facts and so it is safe to say that one can at least derive a general sense of what the era was like for those living in and around Atlanta (based on knowledge from the 1930s).

I was a bit unsure when I began reading the book because I did not enjoy the movie. But, as I began to read, I realized that there are so many things in the book that just couldn't have made it into the movie that help the reader understand the characters and their drama much more fully. For example, throughout the book there are many things that go on internally for Scarlett that could not be portrayed in the movie format but made her a fully dimensional character in the book. There are many emotions that are felt and not expressed that I imagine the filmmakers truly struggled with. I do plan on watching the movie again, from my new perspective this time. I do recommend Gone With the Wind - especially to those who have not lived in the South. Regardless of ones opinions of the South and its attitudes during that era, at least one can learn to appreciate the time, place, and culture they were coming from.
[Photo Credit: Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara]