As soon as I started reading Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, I remembered why I hadn’t read it earlier. I’m a dog lover. Not the dress them up and carry them around in my purse kind (my fur baby is a 120 pound Leonberger so wouldn’t fit anyway), but completely devoted to them nonetheless. A big part of the book is dog fighting in the backwoods of Mississippi. Once I remembered, the dread set in and I put the book down for a week or so. I did want to read about Hurricane Katrina in relation to poor African Americans in rural Mississippi so picked it back up and braced myself. I still didn’t read the pages that involved dogs being hurt. Couldn’t.
The Batiste family lives in the Pit, a junkyard in a backwoods area near a creek fed by the bayou. The narrator is Esch Batiste, a shy 14 year old girl whose mother died giving birth to her youngest brother, Junior. Her father is an out of work alcoholic, her brother Randall is hoping for a basketball scholarship and her brother Skeetah earns money by pitting his prized fighting dog against other dogs and hopes her new puppies will increase his payload. Esch has been having sex with her brothers’ friends since the age of 12 because “it’s easier than saying no.” Pretty soon she’s pregnant on top of everything else. And Katrina is coming.
The book is told in days-to-landfall chapters starting with Day 12. At first she’s no more than a depression out in the Gulf. Only Esch’s mean drunk father even seems to be that concerned about it. In between beers, he tries to scavenger up plywood to board up the windows and repair his truck so he can make money after the storm. By the last two chapters we are frantically turning the pages to see if the Batiste family is going to drown in her fury.
Salvage the Bones won the National Book Award in 2011 and most reviews are glowing. Ward writes in metaphors. Lots of them. Almost every sentence is picturesque or convoluted depending on your point of view. Add in the voice of a teenage girl with a fondness for Greek mythology telling a raw story and it can be a difficult read. Even if you’re not a dog lover.
Picking up my second book in the 24in48 challenge, I left The Tilted World’s 1927 Mississippi Delta and entered 1870 Texas where Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd was returning 10-year-old Johanna Leonberger back to her family. Johanna had been kidnapped by Kiowa warriors when they killed her German immigrant parents four years earlier.
Capt. Kidd, a Civil War veteran and widower who once ran a newspaper, now travels to middle of nowhere small towns in the South reading news from around the world to people who otherwise wouldn’t hear it for the small fee of a dime. At one of his readings he agrees to take Johanna off the hands of an Indian agent for a $50 gold coin and make the long journey to San Antonio. Johanna has completely adopted the Kiowa as her family and has no memories of her life before the kidnapping. She speaks no English and no longer understands or trusts the white man’s world.
This is Reconstruction Texas of the Old West so there are gun fights, corrupt government officials, violent Calvary members, ambushes, and harsh landscapes with long horse wagon travelled distances between towns – the journey from Northern Texas to San Antonio will take them several days. The grandfatherly “Kep-dun” and his charge soon develop a bond that only deepens as they travel.
Upon arriving at the German enclave just outside San Antonio, he takes young Johanna to her cold, childless aunt and uncle who ask his confirmation that the child will work hard and pull her weight on their farm. Uneasily he leaves her with them but soon returns to rescue her from their abuse.
Jiles’ novel is a poetically written piece of historical fiction and Captain Kidd is an authentic character. The surrounding characters fill in his story with rich details and color. The era evoked and the landscapes drawn will haunt you longer after you finish the story.
This was the first book I read during the 24in48 Readathon Challenge and it was a good choice to kick off 24 hours of reading – my favorite genre of historical fiction, but not too heavy, and with an intriguing Southern storyline.
It’s 1927. Prohibition Revenuers and the ever-rising Mississippi River are threatening to destroy the Mississippi Delta and its way of life. Childless Dixie Clay is a successful moonshiner’s wife. Her husband Jesse is reckless and violent and she believes he may be responsible for the disappearance of two federal agents who recently discovered their large still operation.
Ing and Ham are revenue agents sent by Secretary of Commerce Hoover to find the missing agents, arrest the moonshine makers and destroy the stills. They stumble upon a robbery scene with a wailing infant left behind. A former orphan himself, Ing feels obliged to take the baby and find it a home. Inevitably he ends up on Dixie Clay’s doorstep in the small town of Hobnob on the banks of the Mississippi.
The river continues to rise. The townspeople continue to try to secure the levee. Ham gets closer to finding out about the still operation and what happened to the other agents. Dixie and Ing fall in love. Jesse negotiates a deal with a group of wealthy New Orleans bankers to blow up levees along the Delta in an effort to keep the destruction of the rising river from ever reaching NOLA.
It was oddly déjà vu as I read: President Coolidge wasn’t there when the Mississippi Delta was destroyed by the Great Flood of 1927 – President Bush wasn’t there when New Orleans (NOLA) and the Mississippi Gulf Coast were destroyed by flooding and 2005’s Hurricane Katrina; Herbert Hoover led the Red Cross at the time of the 1927 flood and rode the publicity all the way to White House – Michael Brown led FEMA at the time of Katrina and rode the publicity all the way to unemployment.
There’s a point in the book where the authors allege that had the flood happened somewhere more affluent than the Mississippi Delta, the U.S. Government would have done more to save the area and its population. African-Americans who could used the flood to join what would later be coined the Great Migration and moved north. And it is true that the political elite decided that to save New Orleans, they would blow up the levee and basically destroy St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parish.
Similar accusations were made after Katrina – the wealthy French Quarter and the Port of New Orleans saw an almost instant flux of cash and assistance; to date there remain washed-out neighborhoods in the 9th Ward and thousands of African-Americans with no home to return to even if they could afford it. The Mississippi Gulf Coast, marginalized by the NOLA flooding yet which actually took the direct hit of Katrina, has yet to fully recover.
Both natural disasters were record breakers that forever changed the demographics and landscape of America.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Hour 24.5: Ended up going back to Pride and Prejudice for the last 3 hours as I just couldn’t sit anymore without nodding off. Now I’m at 95% and feel the tussle between sleep and the last 5%.
Great challenge! Many thanks to the organizers for putting it all together and for livening things up with the additional challenges thrown in every few hours.
Happy Reading All!
Hour 18.5: finished News of the World, a beautifully written story whose words and images stay with you; will post a review later
Mocha and “gods in Alabama” in hand for the final 5.5 hours.
Hour 15.5: listened to a few more chapters of Pride and Prejudice while getting some much needed housework done.
Brewed some lemon-ginger tea and settling back into News of the World where the captain continues to reintroduce Kiowa-kidnapped, 10 year-old Johanna to the white man’s world on their journey to her people in San Antonio territory.
My TBE – made them on Friday to fuel the weekend:
• Carrot salad with toasted walnuts and cranberries
• Oriental salad with roasted chicken and mandarin slices
• Black bean and corn salad with fresh avocado and smetana
• Hummus with carrot sticks
And cappuccinos, mochas, lemon-ginger tea and sparkling water with orange juice
Hour 12.5: slept longer than I meant to so a late start this morning. A brief thunderstorm in the middle of the night has cooled things down here and it looks to be another beautiful day.
“This is writing. This is printing. This tells us of all the things we ought to know in the world. And also that we ought to want to know.” ~ News of the World
11 hours: finished The Tilted World just as the sun is starting to set. An okay read that kept my attention and taught me about “The Great Flood of the Great River”- the largest natural disaster in American history. I gave it three stars on Goodreads and will post a full review later.
Now on to News of the World by Paulette Jiles
I’ve logged 9.5 hours of reading according to my iPhone stopwatch and it’s early evening. The last couple were spent back with Pride and Prejudice audio so I could stretch my legs and multitask other to dos.
My three literary road trip destinations? Hmm…
•. Walden’s Pond in the fall
•. Monroeville , Alabama in April for the To Kill a Mockingbird performances
•. Faulkner’s Rowan Oak in Oxford, Mississippi when the magnolias are in bloom
Now back to The Tilted World.
Hour 7.5: feeling very much in need of a nap so made myself a double shot mocha before heading back to Mississippi where the levees are about to break. Note to the authors and editor though, Mora clocks are from Sweden not Switzerland.
Hour 6: still deep in the Delta but took a break for shelf sharing
Hour 4: listened to Pride and Prejudice for a couple hours while walking the dog, cleaning up the potted plants and making a nice carrot salad to enjoy on the balcony. Now back to Mississippi in the ’20s.
Good Morning Readers!
The sun is just coming up here in Sofia and it promises to be a beautiful day.
I started the challenge about an hour ago with “The Tilted World” by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly.
It is the spring of 1927 and Commerce Secretary Hoover is leading the Red Cross and revenuers up and down the Mississippi to bust still operators and levee sabotaging. The rains have been record breaking for the last two years and the great Mississippi is bursting through levees all along its path causing devastating flooding and leaving death and desperation in its wake.
What are you reading this morning?
I had trouble deciding what to line up for this weekend’s challenge. Some light, short books to keep things interesting? Finally tackling War and Peace? In the end I went with a mix of light reads and historical fiction with Pride and Prejudice as my audio book to still count time while walking the dog …
Are you doing the challenge this weekend? What’s in your stack?