Sunday, August 26, 2007

On my mind

I'm currently catching up with Jasper Fforde's fun Thursday Next novels, but lately, I've been reminded of three books I've read in the past that were intriguing enough to hold my attention long after I'd finished reading them.

Henry and Clara, by Thomas Mallon, depicts the lives of Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris, who were the younger couple invited to share President Lincoln's box in the Ford Theater the night he was assassinated. It's written as a novel, but it is the true story of two people whose lives were turned upside down, first by The Civil War, and then by the rumor, innuendo, blame, and guilt that dogged them everywhere after the president's death. It's a tragic story.

The Concubine's Children, by Denise Chong, is a riveting family history in which Chong makes sense out of her mother's hard, poor, and neglected childhood. Chong's grandfather, Chan Sam, left a wife and family in China to set out for gold in Canada, around 1913. He brought with him a concubine, May-ying, who became the mother of Chong's two Canadian-born children (one of them Denise Chong's mother, Hing). May-ying was obliged to help support Chan Sam and his family back in China by waitressing in teahouses. With no choice about her fate, the overworked May-ying begins to lead a distressed life, and Chan Sam eventually disowns her, leaving May-ying and her two children to fend for themselves. Chan Sam never did get back to China to his other family, but Denise Chong does. Reuniting with her family in China, Denise Chong and her mother, Hing, hear of how their family survived the Japanese occupation and the rule of Mao Tse-tung. We get to read about the lives of all of Hing's siblings.

The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America, by John Demos
I don't often sit down and read a history book, but I did read this history book, cover to cover. It's the story of Eunice Williams, who was seven years old when she was kidnapped by Mohawk Indians during Queen Anne's War, in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Her puritan minister father, John Williams, and his family were kidnapped in 1704 and forced to march into Canada. On the way, Williams's wife and youngest child are killed. Eventually, Williams and his sons are set free, but Eunice is not, and at the age of 16, she converts to Catholicism and marries a Native American. Fearing for his daughter's soul, John Williams spends the rest of his life trying to persuade her to come back, but Eunice has lost her native language, culture, and religion, and chooses to stay where she is. John Demos's exploration into the cultural and religious clashes of this time period are fascinating.

It's a history thing, huh? A historical novel, a memoir, and a history book.


TLP said...

As usual I want to read everything you write about. You should get a job promoting novels for a publisher!

Do you still have the The Concubine's Children?

actonbell said...

No, Mom, I never owned that one. It was a loan from someone I used to work with.

Minka said...

hmmm...yes, teh Concubine's children soudn most interesting to me as well...especially sinc eof late, i have been stuck a bit in Chinese literature. Amazing history that country has.