So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Tobacco Road

Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell
Tobacco Road is Erskine Caldwell's classic about the poverty of farmers in the American Southeast during the Depression. Jeeter Lester is a typical Georgia farmer: his grandfather owned a plantation, and his father was a sharecropper. He just wants to plant cotton as the spring is coming on, but he has no education, no food, no land, no credit, and no hope. All he has left is faith in God and an instinctual desire to farm the land as he lives for free in an abandoned shack on a deserted farm.

While Jeeter blames God, Caldwell blames Jeeter's problems on rich people who have withdrawn their financial support of the rural farmers, leaving them poor, hungry and illiterate. At the end of the book Lov says "It looks like the Lord don't care about crops being raised no more like He used to, or He would be more helpful to the poor. He could make the rich people lend out their money, and stop holding it up. I can't figure how they got hold of all the money in the country, anyhow. Looks like it ought to be spread out among everybody."

It is this callous indifference of the Southern rich to the poor people of their states that makes this book seem relevant in my mind to modern readers. Once again today we have rich people in power gutting the enlightened policies that helped raise the Depression era poor out of their squalid conditions. Will today's politicians create the conditions for a new generation of Jeeter Lesters to suffer in poverty and neglect?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Drawings from the Gulag

Drawings from the Gulag by Danzig Baldaev
Disturbing series of drawings depicting cruelty inside the gulags of Soviet Russia drawn by a prison guard. The original Russian text is translated, and notes are added to explain or verify incidents depicted. Not for the squeamish.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Iron Pincers: Or, Mylio and Karvel, a Tale of the Albigensian Crusades

The Iron Pincers: Or, Mylio and Karvel, a Tale of the Albigensian Crusades by Eugene Sue

The Iron Pincers is the thirteenth volume of a nineteen volume series that Eugene Sue called The Mysteries of the People, or, History of a Proletarian Family Across the Ages. Each volume is written as if by a member of the family set down the events of their life. This volume is set in the beginning of the 13th century where Mylio is a troubadour who sings love songs to the ladies of the town while their husbands are away at the last Crusade.
In the opening scenes, Mylio is successful at both singing and wooing the ladies of the town, but when their husbands return from the Crusades they have a new mission from the priests. They are being told to take their armies south to slaughter the Albigensian non-Catholics, plunder their riches, and take their lands. When Mylio hears this he rushes south to warn his brother Karvel of the impending invasion. While they put up a good resistance, they are greatly outnumbered as city after city falls before the Catholic army.
This was one of the most difficult of the books in this series to read. The author has always depicted the invading ruling class as greedy, cruel and amoral, but this slaughter is one of the worst in French history and he doesn't spare the details to protect the readers.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Scandalous Life: The Biography of Jane Digby el Mezrab

A Scandalous Life: The Biography of Jane Digby el Mezrab by Mary S. Lovell
Mary Lovell presents the scandalous life of Jane Digby in a detailed yet respectful way. She had access to family papers, so we get the inside personal view that her letters and journals provide, not the scandals and gossip of the press. It is a fascinating life for a 19th century British woman. At 17 she marries a wealthy but unloving husband, only to leave him when she falls in love with another man. After a divorce she is abandoned by her lover who cannot marry a divorced woman. She proceeds through continental Europe making a few more attempts at finding a place to call home. Always her famous beauty and outstanding personality wins her the devotion of men she doesn't love while the men she loves cannot provide her the legitimacy of marriage. Jane finally goes to Syria and marries a desert nomad half her age, living a strange double life as a muslim wife and an English lady expat spending months at a time in desert tents, but having houses in Damascus and Homs, places known to us today from news reports of the violent civil war.