Follett’s novel, A Dangerous Fortune, deals with a major London bank at the end of the 19th century. The story starts at an exclusive Windfield School for boys where cruelty and treachery will seal the fate of a small group of boys. The story deals with several themes, but deceit is the most prevalent. Details of the drowning of a young boy, Peter Middleton, by his fellow student at a local quarry is kept secret for several decades. The characters involved never stray too far from the incident during the next 30 years as they either try to cover up or they attempt to find out the details of what really happened.The banking world is presented side by side with the poorer classes of society. The Prince of Wales appears at a posh party in one scene, while another scene depicts goings-on in a slummy brothel. Characters are also presented as being honest or deceitful, greedy or generous. They appeared a little stereotypical but the story was nevertheless a page-turner and a good read.
We find ourselves immersed in American history in Charles Frazier’s epic novel, Cold Mountain, where North and South face each other in a Civil War between their own countrymen. Three years after the outbreak of war, the characters are presented as disillusioned and in some way damaged emotionally, spiritually and in most cases, physically as well. Neither side is favoured since both are considered self-serving and perhaps dishonest in their motives. Although slavery is a main focus of the war, the story plot itself seems to zero in on the white’s man disregard of human dignity. Crime and cruelty, however, abound on both sides of the fence and neither southerner nor northerner captures all the blame.This is also, maybe more so, a story about two young lovers and their quest towards self-fulfillment through loneliness and isolation. The ending was quick and unexpected and left me wondering how else to close this spiritual journey of love and self-discovery. A great read with abundant descriptions of America’s mountain country.
Richard Wagamese’s heart-wrenching novel, Indian Horse, about racial discrimination against the Ojibway First Nation of northern Ontario in 1960s Canada,is a profound read. The emotions are raw and the pain is real. It describes the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse of innocent children at the hands of authority figures at St.Jerome’s Residential School, and the victim’s struggle to find a way to survive the pain.
Saul Indian Horse finds a way to repress his abuse by becoming a hockey star—his speed as he skates across the ice gives him a feeling of flight, of being untouchable. To sustain his stardom he must enter the white world where he is subjected to more physical and emotional cruelty from those who think ’hockey is their game’, and where there’s no room for Indian upstarts. His escape from this world of racial slurs and targeted physical abuse leads him to a dark path to self-destruction. To heal, he must confront and let go of the demons that have lurked within him since childhood.
This isn’t only the story of one man’s journey of survival and healing, nor is it strictly about the genocidal attempt to squash the culture of the OjibwayFirst nation—it is the story experienced by all the First Nations of North America and how their respect and devotion of Mother Earth has helped them heal and sustained their spirit to this day. Just as Saul will reclaim his talent as a hockey player by sharing it with the younger ones, Richard Wagamese, in sharing this story, is reclaiming the spirit of all the First Nations peoples who have suffered the evils of discrimination.
Kim Edwards’ captivating novel, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, shows how one lie told on the spur of the moment, can greatly affect the lives of those around you. Nora’s labour starts during a snowstorm and her doctor can’t make it on time for the delivery. Her husband, Dr. David Henry, with the help of his nurse, Caroline Gill, go ahead with the delivery. Nora gives birth to a beautiful baby boy, but when her labour pains start again, her doctor sedates her to ease her pain. When he delivers the second child, a baby girl with Downs Syndrome, he instructs Caroline to bring the child right away before his wife wakes up to a home for children with special needs. He then tells his wife that the child was stillborn. This is the lie that will forever alter his marriage, his relationship with his son, the life of Caroline Gill, and the life of the baby girl he has rejected.This is a story of deceit, of troubled relationships, and of how love and determination can overcome the intolerance faced by those with disabilities. It also brings us down memory lane when pregnant women were sedated on the delivery table and couldn’t participate in the birth of their child. A great read!
Christoph Fischer’s historical novel, Ludwika: A Polish Woman’s Struggle To Survive In Nazi Germany is a riveting page-turner that presents human drama at its best.In this World War II novel, Ludwika Gierz, a young beautiful Polish woman, suffers the loss of all the men in her life. She is still in mourning of her brother, Franz, who has drowned two years earlier when her father goes missing in action in the beginning of the war. Her mother, her sister Stacia and her young daughter Irena are left to fend for themselves on
the farm while the German invaders force their neighbours off their land. Manfred, a handsome SS German officer, falls in love with Ludwika and the family is allowed the special privilege of remaining in their own home on condition that she accompany him to Germany. She is forced to leave her family behind but she believes her sacrifice will guarantee their safety. Her decision begins her horrific journey of pain and suffering as she lives first hand the humiliation of being a young innocent woman at the mercy of cruel oppressors.
Another touching historical drama by an author who writes with the heart.
Ken Follett’s gripping, and extremely detailed historical epic, The Pillars of the Earth, takes place in England during the twelfth century. The backdrop is the continuous battle for the English throne between King Stephen and the Empress Maud. Tom Builder, a poor mason, insists on following his dream of building a cathedral. Times are hard and jobs are rare—he ends up starving and freezing with his family in the forest. His wife dries from childbirth and, unable to feed his newborn son, is forced to leave his infant son to die on top of the mother’s grave. Unbeknownst to him, the crying baby is rescued by a monk who brings him to his monastery. Enter the evil Hamleigh family aided by the corrupt Bishop Waleran, the beautiful and independent Aliena who is raped by her suitor, and Jack Jackson, the talented master-builder who finds a way to fulfill Tom’s dream, and the great page-turning saga begins.This story takes place during the era in England when Church and state walked hand-in hand to govern the land and its people. Priests and churchmen were often corrupt because of the power they had. Women were second-class citizens no matter what class they were in. But in the midst of all the cruelty, the betrayals and the injustice, we find moral, passionate characters that confront the status quo, i.e. Prior Philip, Tom Builder, Aliena, Ellen, Jack Jackson, to name a few. These characters follow their dreams and refuse to give up no matter how bleak their future appears. It is because of these characters that this brilliant epic is such a great and memorable read.
Having read Colleen McCullough’s historical romance, The Thorn Birds, years back, and having been a fan of the TV series, I decided to reread the 692 page novel to see why I had enjoyed it then. I was reintroduced to the great Australian countryside, to the intensity of sheep farming, to the isolation and hardship of back country living. The description of Australia’s vegetation and animal life was vivid and educational. The historical aspect dealing with the Aussie participation in the wars was also well detailed.What I found lacking,though, was my bonding to the characters. The plot was certainly well crafted with family secrets, betrayals, long-distance romances and timely deaths and births, but I had a hard time getting under the characters’ skin. They all mellow after a while and become more likeable, but now I know why I didn’t remember what I had liked about it–the characters aren’t immortalized for me. A great achievement, and certainly an Australian classic.