Book Club reads Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

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A few weeks ago, book club read Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. I have to confess to avoiding this book when it came out and I’m not sure why. Perhaps because it was getting so much hype? Perhaps because I was feeling cantankerous? Perhaps just because. In any event, I powered through the novel in two and a half very satisfying days.

What did book club think? I belong to more than one book club and in this one, about twenty-five women get together to discuss the latest read with the deft assistance of our moderator Jill. For those who haven’t read Before We Were Yours, the story is told in two timelines: present day and 1939 Memphis Tennessee. It is “based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country.”

Jill opened the conversation by asking the group if anyone had experience with adoption and a surprising number of participants gave personal examples. Next up was the general question of whether we liked the book and would recommend it — a resounding yes!

Several topics elicited lively discussion: the burden of family expectations; the desire to be who you want to be; the theme of sisterhood; the question of whether these adopted children were better off with wealthy families; family bonds; the southern way of life; the crime itself and the motivation of Georgia Tann and those who facilitated her business; a famous family’s right to privacy; present-day nursing home scandals.

With two timelines, there is often a sense that one is more powerful than the other and in this case many in the group preferred the 1939 timeline over the one set in present day. I’m in that camp as I felt Wingate brought great authenticity and skill to that setting and its compelling characters.

From my highlights:

Lovely metaphor: “Nothing takes you from thirty years old to thirteen faster than your mother’s voice rebounding up the stairs like a tennis ball after a forehand slice.”

Personally meaningful: “One of the best things a father can do for his daughter is let her know that she has met his expectations.”

On riverboat wisdom: “Briny says there’s good folks on the river and folks you can’t trust, and it’s best to figure out who’s who from a distance.”

On politics: “Get the women, and you’ve got the vote, my father always says. Only foolish men underestimate their power.”

More lovely metaphors: “A sick feeling bubbles in me like a black-water eddy. It’s got no place to go. It just spins round and round in circles.”

On living life: “Well, that’s one of the paradoxes of life. You can’t have it all. You can have some of this and some of that or all of this and none of that.”

On secrets: “Secrets have a way of coming out. That’s a bit of wisdom my father has shared with me many times. Secrets also make you vulnerable to your enemies, political or otherwise.”

Before We Were Yours – a highly satisfying read.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Book club reads Educated by Tara Westover

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Book club unanimously endorsed Tara Westover’s well-received novel of growing up in a survivalist Mormon home in the hills of Idaho. The words used to describe it included: compelling, horrifying, unbelievable, shocking, inspiring, and head shaking. Yes, this memoir had a profound effect on all of us. I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads.

A quick synopsis: Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough to be admitted to Brigham Young University. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her to Harvard and Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

We found much to discuss. Who and what influenced Tara and set her on a path to become educated? Where did she get the strength and determination to change her life? What factors caused her brother Shawn to be both loving and abusive to his young sister? What aspects of the Mormon faith drove the behaviour of Tara’s father? Who betrayed Tara and how? Why did Tara’s mother fail to protect her children from their father? Does the title refer to Tara’s formal education or some broader concept of education? Did Tara write her memoir from a position of anger or hurt or love? We debated each question enthusiastically and with compassion.

My own reading of Educated produced over 100 highlights.

Describing her mountain home: “In that vast space you can sail unaccompanied for hours, afloat on pine and brush and rock. It’s a tranquility born of sheer immensity; it calms with its very magnitude, which renders the merely human of no consequence.”

About learning at home: “Learning in our family was entirely self-directed: you could learn anything you could teach yourself, after your work was done.”

Her father’s paranoia (there are many sentences related to this): “Dad took a twenty from his wallet and crumpled it. ‘Not this fake money. In the Days of Abomination, this won’t be worth a thing. People will trade hundred-dollar bills for a roll of toilet paper.”

Her father’s position on school: “whoring after man’s knowledge instead of God’s”

On taking dancing lessons: “I was ashamed to see so much of my legs. Dad said a righteous woman never shows anything above her ankle.” and “Learning to dance felt like learning to belong.”

On her upbringing: “All my life those instincts had been instructing me in this single doctrine — that the odds are better if you rely only on yourself.” and a little later: “What kind of lunatic would come back here once he’d escaped?”

On being in the outside world: “for the first time I felt the immensity of the gap. I understood now: I could stand with my family, or with the gentiles [her father’s word for other Mormons], on the one side or the other, but there was no foothold in between.”

Two of Tara’s personal insights: “To admit uncertainty is to admit to weakness, to powerlessness, and to believe in yourself despite both. It is a frailty but in this frailty there is a strength.” and “It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you.”

I could go on! The story of Tara’s family and what she endured and how she survived will stay with me for a very long time.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION – and other books – FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

 

King Edward VIII: an American life by Ted Powell

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Privilege doesn’t always deliver contentment. Fairly tales don’t always produce happy endings. Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David Windsor, also known as the Prince of Wales and then King Edward VIII of England, was born into wealth, privilege and expectation. As the first-born son of George V, he was monarch-in-waiting. Ultimately, he reigned for eleven months and gave it all up for a twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson.

Although most people know the dramatic ending of Edward VIII’s abdication, many are unaware of his earlier life—the contribution he made during World War I, the support he gave to King and Empire after the war, and the role he played during the later years of his father’s life when George V was ill. And few are aware of his lifelong attachment to America. The story Ted Powell has chosen to tell in his non-fiction book King Edward VIII: an American Life (Oxford University Press, 2018) centres on Edward’s keen interest in American attitudes, successes, and its robust democracy, his celebrity status, and the contribution he made as Prince of Wales and heir presumptive.

King Edward VIII is a tragic figure. His love for Wallis Simpson an obsession. Read more about Ted Powell’s biography and his perspective based on extensive research at the HNS website.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.