Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “Japanese internment camps”

Spring Came on Forever

Spring Came on Forever by Bess Streeter Aldrich

From the book:

This is the story of two midwestern families and the starnge way in which their paths crossed. It begins in Illinois in the year 1866, and end in Nebraska in the present one [1935], severed from all that went before and all that will continue beyond a thing of incompleteness.

Aldrich blends together a portrait of the harshness of prairie pioneer life and that of an unconventional love story.  Amalia Holmsdorfer, a sweet young girl of seventeen, finds herself attracted to twenty-one year Matthias Meier, the young clerk who sold her stern German father the soap-making kettle.  Matthias also finds himself attracted to Amalia and begins secretly courting her–even though she has been pledged in marriage to a man of her father’s choosing.  Amalia and Matthias plan to run away together, yet their plans meet up with the fury of flooded roads and even though Matthias attempts to meet her in Nebraska before she marries, he again meets up with one of nature’s blockades.  Matthias and Amalia miss each other by mere hours and she marries the wrong man.

So goes the begins a love story that will span three and four generations.  Aldrich, writing in the style prevalent of her time, reveals the story in an omniscient narrator fashion.  It’s as if we are sitting in a cozy living room and listening to a tale of long ago.  While the “tell” style of yesteryear may not got over well with the current “show” method of today, I have to admit I became so involved in the plot that by the last chapter I clutched the book and actually cried.  And I am not a crier when it comes to literature.  Movies, on occasion can induce some sniffling, but rarely can a book get me to sob.

The story is mainly about Amalia; her hopes and dreams of romance are forever changed when she is forced to leave with the rest of her family and the other members of her German community to build a new settlement in Nebraska. Though she appears complacent on the outside, she keeps her inner thoughts and desires to herself.  Aldrich captures this wonderfully:

pp. 9 & 10

But thoughts are acrobats, agile and quite often untrustworthy.  So now, with impish disregard of the command, they hopped about quite easily.  They asked Amalia innocently why the nice young man wanted to know where she lived.  They suggested with subtle art the possibility that he would try to find out.  And then when the gruff person at her side questioned their activities they urged her quickly to answer, “Nein.”

My interest in pioneer started long ago with the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books. There is a fascination in reading about how people created homes and towns out of the rough lands of prairie and wilderness, and through all this tremendous effort they had their own personal stories.   For the last five years I have labored on a novel about a family who follows the Oregon trail to turn off and make their claim in Idaho.  Historical novels require plenty of research to make the time period, setting, and characters come alive.  Aldrich’s Spring Came on Forever reminded me how moving pioneer stories can be.   I am also encouraged to someday write something that induces tears.

The Magic of Ordinary Days

The Magic of Ordinary Days by Ann Howard Creel

Olivia Dunne’s dreams of becoming an archaeologist are irrevocably changed after a brief interlude with a solider shipping out overseas. Her father arranges a marriage with a reputable bachelor farmer and Livvy accepts this arrangement. Leaving her married sisters behind in Denver, Livvy arrives in rural Colorado to become the wife of a man she does not know.

The book explores many topics: grief, betrayal, loneliness, trust, forgiveness, acceptance, and love. Livvy shows the readers her situation and how she adjusts to it in a voice full of angst. She mourns the recent passing of her mother, as well as the changes her mother’s death has brought her father. She stoically accepts the arranged marriage, for her baby needs a name. Ray, her new husband, knows Livvy carries another man’s child, yet he does not judge or resent Livvy for it. He patiently waits for Livvy to love him as he has come to love her.

Within this main plot is Livvy’s friendship with two Japanese-American sisters, Rose and Lorelei, who are residents of a local interment camp. Readers see the affects of WWII on Americans through Livvy’s eyes and through Rose’s and Lorelei’s.

As a reader I relished Creel’s use of imagery. I could feel the isolation Livvy suffered: the expanse of the fields, the lack of neighbors and family to break up the monotony, the need of useful purpose. Found on page 41: A clay-colored tumbleweed wedged between rows of green leaves caught my eye. Thorny, trapped, and out of place, it let me know the insignificance of any one, distinctive thing caught in a place so mapped with sameness. Aunt Eloise and Aunt Pearl had once accused me of hiding out in school. Instead Father had sent me into hiding here, where the openness of land and sky made hiding out about as unlikely as finding clover among the sage.

As a writer I appreciated Creel’s ability to use the first person narrator in such a way that all the characters were given dimension. The narration flowed so effortlessly that I often forgot the story was told from Livvy’s point of view. Another aspect of Creel’s writing is her use of prologue. Not being much of a prologue fan, I find myself inadvertently cringing whenever a book begins with one. Why not just start the story? Why the compunction to have extra exposition? However, Creel’s prologue is perfect; it reads as a visual movie trailer. It sets up the plot, the initial conflicts, the intrigue. It hooked me as a reader.

The Magic of Ordinary Days is far from ordinary. A compliment to Creel is that her book became an inspiration for a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, which I had actually watched many years ago. As always, the book is better.

The Magic of Ordinary Days

The Magic of Ordinary Days (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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