The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

Quick: what did Lindbergh do? Fly solo and non-stop across the Atlantic from Long Island to Paris, yes.

Anything else? Had a baby who was kidnapped, pro-German/anti-Semitic political leanings, involved with aviation…yes, also all true….if you’re thinking of Charles Lindbergh.

That’s what he did. What did she do?

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the titular “Aviator’s Wife”, was herself an aviatrix and author, in addition to the roles more conventional for the time of wife and mother and staunch supporter of her husband’s career and viewpoints while he was alive. She wrote and edited a number of books, including her husband’s autobiography, The Spirit of St. Louis, and her own, and Gift from the Sea, among others. The majority of her adult life, however, was spent as wife to (and in the shadow of) the renowned Charles Lindbergh; Anne not only remained behind with the children as they grew up, but publically supported her husband’s activities and political views1.

Charles and Anne both struggle with the publicity resulting from his trans-Atlantic flight; being in the public eye meant scrutiny of his opinions on proper breeding and isolationist stance during the lead-up and during World War Two. The 20-20 hindsight of intervening decades has largely discredited both, and so perhaps it’s not surprising that The Aviator’s Wife, being told from Anne’s perspective by a modern author, does suggest that Anne didn’t hold with her husband’s political beliefs but felt obligated, as a loyal wife, to support him in public.

As the children grow up, and Charles spends more and more time ‘traveling for work’, Anne herself struggles to reconcile her own desire for individuality with the societal expectation that she remain a helpmeet to her husband and mother to their children, even after the children have left home and the husband has proved himself not entirely the man she (and he) thought he was. In the end, neither attempt proves successful; though they remained married until Charles Lindbergh’s death in 1974, both Anne and Charles had affairs— she with the family doctor and he, perhaps not surprisingly, with a pair of Bavarian sisters and his East Prussian secretary, with whom he had a total of seven more children.

Overall, it’s well done.

Keep in mind, of course, that this is a novel, not a biography. As with Alice I Have Been and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, Benjamin’s picked another ‘sidebar’ woman about whom to write a fictional biography. This is like her first two books in that Benjamin also sticks quite close to the truth, at least insofar as external events go, she extrapolates quite a bit in regards her subject’s inner thoughts, hopes, dreams and monologues.

I suspect that this one may be a bit more uncomfortable for readers than Benjamin’s first two books, as Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s life was, for the most part, within living memory. Modern readers with more than a smattering of political awareness may come away wondering how spineless someone would have to be to continue supporting another’s clearly anti-Semitic opinions, despite their good Jewish friends. Modern women may come away mumbling about how spineless a woman would have to be to sit back and let their husband do all that. I’d argue that it’s still an interesting read; she was who she was, and if Benjamin inspires some readers to delve deeper into the lives of Charles and Anne Lindbergh, so much the better. Certainly, Benjamin doesn’t claim that her novel is anything other than fiction, though based firmly in fact…and both Charles and Anne were prolific diarists and autobiographists, not to mention being fairly well documented elsewhere in contemporaneous news sources and political files.

Keep in mind, though, that this isn’t a uniformly grim novel enumerating the protagonists’ failings! Benjamin does include the joy both took in flying, and flying in the ’20s and ’30s was adventurous to say the least. Her descriptions of taking wing in those early planes, noisy and mechanically cantankerous, are worth reading if only to give an idea of what exactly it was Charles Lindbergh did dare to do with his beloved Spirit of Saint Louis, not to mention the delight Anne must have taken in her own flights. Benjamin also slips in a fair bit of sense of the times and also retrospective humor: as an example, the book and the relationship begin in the ’20s with a ballroom dance, and end, more or less, with the festivities attendant on the launch of Apollo XI, during which Anne dances the Monkey with Buzz Aldrin and convinces Spiro Agnew to try the Twist with her.

For those inspired to look farther for non-fiction autobiographies, try Susan Hertog’s Annie Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life, Benjamin ends her novel with Morrow Lindbergh, now in her seventies and a widow, taking a solo flight in her own airplane from the 1930s—a not too terribly subtle way of expressing the subject’s own personal trajectory into personal independence and freedom…but Morrow Lindbergh did live for another twenty-five years or thereabouts, not covered in the novel. (She died in 2001, on her daughter Reeve’s farm.)

1In fairness, I’m not sure how much of that support came from Anne’s own belief in same or whether she felt, as many women her age did, that she had to become so completely part of her husband’s life.

Red as Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer, by Tanith Lee

Just as a disclaimer at the beginning, Lee’s stories aren’t all based on the Grimm brothers’ collection of folk tales—the ballet Swan Lake is based (so far as I can tell) on several Russian folk tales, and Beauty and the Beast is French, first set down by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve—but in the main, she’s selected fairly well-known tales:

Original story/Tanith Lee’s tale:
     1. The Pied Piper/The Paid Piper
     2. Snow White/Red as Blood
     3. Rapunzel/The Golden Rope
     4. The Frog Prince/The Princess and her Future
     5. Sleeping Beauty/Thorns
     6. Cinderella/When the Clock Strikes
     7. Little Red Riding Hood/Wolfland
     8. Swan Lake/Black as Ink
     9. Beauty and the Beast/Beauty

There are hints of Hans Christian Anderson in some of the religious symbolism, and Edgar Allan Poe and Robert Chambers in the horror/supernatural aspects herein, but all filtered through a modern feminist sensibility and bedded in a vocabulary much lusher than the originals on which Lee’s based her tales. (Many of the fairy tales are disappointingly sparse in their terse setting down of the plotline.) Additionally, the stories diverge from the originals in their settings in locale and period; they’re arranged chronologically, according to Lee’s settings, from “The Paid Piper” set in Asia in the first (or last) century B.C. stretching forward to “Beauty”, set in an unspecified but fairly distant future and an unnamed but northern country.

In “The Paid Piper”, the titular character steals not the living children of Hamelin, but the as yet unborn in the town of Lime Tree, where the rat god Raur is worshiped. In “Red as Blood”, Snow White is the daughter of a witch, and her father has married a Christian woman, who drives out the evil witchcraft in her stepdaughter by arranging for her to be confirmed in this new religion. In “The Golden Rope”, Rapunzel is taken down to her betrothed in Hell…which is not the Hell her captor believes it to be but a beautiful haven for her. “Thorns” is a fairly straightforward take on “Sleeping Beauty”, until the prince realizes that despite having woken the princess, she and her court are still dreaming of their own time a century before. Well, think about it: would you really want to marry someone from 1913, who’d slept through the intervening century? Imagine explaining World Wars, mustard gas and nuclear weapons, iPads and flying to the moon! “When the Clock Strikes” always reminded me of “The King in Yellow” and “The Red Masque”, though it’s intended as a retelling of “Cinderella”, in which it is ‘Ashella’ who is the evil servant of the Nether Regions, and her stepmother and stepsisters truly good people who are ashamed that they cannot reach out to the girl who appears a mad simpleton. “Black as Ink” is a fairly straightforward (at least for this book) retelling of “Swan Lake”, in which the swan may is transformed into a beautiful and unaging girl, who must learn human ways but upon whom the human mannerisms rest uneasily

As with many collections of short stories, readers will inevitably prefer some stories to others; I’ve never been crazy about Lee’s take on Swan Lake, not least because I wasn’t familiar with the ballet when I first read the book. Of the seven, I’m inclined to like the two longest, “Wolfland” and “Beauty”. In “Wolfland”, a variant on “Red Riding Hood” (complete with red cape), the grandmother who lives within the deep dark woods is not threatened by the Big Bad Wolf…she IS the wolf; she has become a werewolf, with the aid of a liqueur derived from the yellow flower that grows only in these woods, in order to preserve herself from her brutally abusive husband. She recognizes in her granddaughter Lisel the one to replace her as mistress of the chateau and the wolves in the woods. “Beauty” is interesting in that it has a futuristic setting, combining the world of folk lore with that of science fiction; the Beast is one of an alien race, which came bearing benign gifts, and left members of its race on Earth. Unlike other tellings, it is not the Beast who transforms literally into human shape, but Beauty, here Estar, who finds that she is a figurative Beast.

What to read next? This time, I’ve got a suggestion, other than the obvious collections of Hans Christian Anderson, Grimm Brothers and Perrault. Angela Carter, specifically her collection of short stories, The Bloody Chamber And Other Stories. She’s the only author who, I think combines the fairy tale ambiance with modernization and feminism that is…twisted or kinky is too strong and too suggestive in a variety of ways, and indirect too subtle. Updating, perhaps.

Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices by Leonard S. Marcus

Interesting! At least if you’re a fan of Madeleine L’Engle’s works.

I’m not going to go into a huge amount of detail about who L’Engle is; either you know who she is, or you’re probably not all that interested in children’s and teen/YA literature, but if you’re somewhere in the middle, start here.

This isn’t a straightforward biography, but rather a collection of interviews with people who knew L’Engle. The basic idea is: interview a range of people who knew Madeleine L’Engle–writers and editors, family members, fans and friends. The book’s broken down into several sections, approximately by the type of person being interviewed–friends, family members, people who knew her years ago and those who knew her more recently, professional acquaintances and those she mentored.

Marcus did do well to select a range of people to include in this book; however, his selection struck me as a bit heavy on the people who knew her professionally. This could be a plus or a minus, depending on what you want to know about the person being written about. I don’t know if this was Marcus’s choice or a necessity resulting from the fact that she’d died some years before this book’s publication and that at a fairly advanced age after a prolonged illness involving not only physical debility but mental entanglements–in short, many of her close friends of long duration may have preceded her, and the people who knew her in her later years might not be left with an idea of what Ms. L’Engle was like in her youth.

Ruefully, I’m left feeling a bit mixed about the book. Not all of the interview subjects are positive, though that’s not quite the disparaging remark it sounds; it would be all too easy to gush about someone with L’Engle’s stature, if you were the kind to be impressed with such a person. I’m glad in this regard that Marcus simply included the interviews themselves, with minimal editing for flow. The words here are the words of the people he spoke to, not his own interpretation. While I understand that she did use people and situations from her own life in the fiction she wrote, such as the adoption of Maria after the death of the child’s parents, I’m also bemused by how much of her own autobiography was…er…glossed over–was her father’s illness a result of lung damage from mustard gas or from alcoholism?

In one way, it’s a little disappointing to find out the reality of such an iconic writer (at least if you’re into fantasy and religion); why should she not be as perfect as her characters? In another…why should she BE as perfect as her characters? They were created fictions, she was real, both better and worse than I imagined her. Not that she was horrible, mind. She was human. Kind to her fans, struck dumb with the awe of reading the author of A Wrinkle in Time. Drawing the curtain of denial over her family members’ flaws. Loving her husband. Spending time with her writing when her kids wanted her as Mama. And so on. A real person. And in the end, I’m grateful to know this much more about her.

Mary, Called Magdalene by Margaret George

At that, [Jesus’s mother] let out a laugh. “Wrong test!” she said, shaking her head. “The rabbis in Jerusalem know better.” She turned to her guests. “Last year, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem to probe the scribes and rabbis at the Temple about fine points of scripture. So I can appreciate how your parents feel, Mary, to have a child suddenly go of on his own. But no one wins a scripture contest with Jesus.”

Well, I suppose no one would, now could they? Never mind the fact that at the time to which Mary is referring, Jesus hadn’t yet had his bar mitzvah.

First the disclaimers. I hope my more secular readers and those from a non-Christian background will forgive me for the phrasing in this review; please keep in mind that, in this case, I’m reviewing the work of fiction by Margaret George, not the Bible itself. This does not constitute an endorsement of the religion, but simply a review of a book I found diverting. Also (with another round of apologies), I haven’t read any of the many other books about Mary Magdalene, and this review is not intended to be a survey of the literature. I would only hope that this novel might pique someone’s interest in reading more about her. Oh, and if you’re coming to this novel after having read The DaVinci Code, keep going. The two are completely different.

Mary Magdalene is one of the more prominent women in the New Testament, but none of the more widely accepted books of the Bible say much about her. Was she a prostitute? Mentally ill? Apostle to the apostles? The fact that she was the first person to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection should indicate something…but what1?

Mary, Called Magdalene is (surprise, surprise) primarily about Mary Magdalene, though necessarily includes a great deal about Jesus. The book begins with her childhood, in a particularly observant Jewish family, holding themselves apart from less strict families at home and while traveling. The first portion of the book, when Mary was a child, sets the stage for her later life: on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, she not only befriends a girl from a more lenient family but in an escapade with Keziah, runs off to meet others en route to Jerusalem. It is here that Mary first meets Jesus, he a tween but even then a particularly eloquent and charismatic boy, as evidenced by his convincing the stern Nathan, Mary’s father, to permit her to stay overnight with a strange family.

As so many children do, she grew into an adult, married, and had a child…but unfortunately, she became plagued with demons2, and it is here that Jesus appears, again. The wedge was driven in with Mary’s filching an image of one of the gods of previous religions, rejected utterly by Jews of the time; in this case, it was a little ivory statuette of a goddess, which served as a channel directly between the deity herself and Mary. Over the years, other similar spirits came to Mary, to the point that she was no longer able to function as a wife, a mother, and a member of society. As this was regarded as a religious issue, she first went to a rabbi gifted in driving out such creatures for treatment; when he proved unsuccessful, Mary retreated out to a desert cave to wrestle alone with her possessors. Stumbling out of the isolation, crazed with her inner demons (and probably also things like dehydration, sunstroke, and hunger), she meets Jesus, who drives out the demons himself…and it’s here that Margaret George veers from conjecture about what the life of a woman at the time might have been back into what little we know of Mary from the New Testament.

Overall, I must confess I felt something lacking in this novel. It could just be that there is comparatively little written about Mary Magdalene, relative to some of the other women about whom George has written novels. Certainly, there’s comparatively little written about her, relative to the men mentioned in the Bible, contemporaneous with the protagonist here. But. But. And a very important But. This is a work (indirectly) about an important religious figure; I’d bet that novels about Mohammed, no matter how well written, no matter the doctrine followed in the text, would similarly redact off readers who belonged to Islam. Perhaps that’s the important thing to take away: I too found the first half or thereabouts of the book, when Mary Magdalene was a child and youth, then raising a family and battling her own demons, more interesting. After she became a follower of Jesus, what interest I had in the book dropped off, perhaps because it then became inevitably about him as much as her.

I do appreciate the little touches that humanize this figure, little less mythological than Helen of Troy. Her anguish at being ripped from her daughter. Her despair at being called a ‘loose woman’ and ‘harlot’ after spending forty days and forty nights alone unchaperoned in the desert with several of the men who similarly became followers of Jesus. Not so sure about some of the details surrounding Jesus himself–here, both Jesus and his mother doubted his mission/nature until the former’s final arrival in Jerusalem–but then this book isn’t, strictly speaking, about Jesus. Thankfully. Or it would be about four times the length, and that’s impracticable to bind.

Overall, though, I’d call it an interesting take on a footnote woman from the Bible, comparatively neutral…although that withstanding, I’m sure that someone out there’s redacted off about it from a doctrinal (however peripheral) standpoint. Writing comparatively non-denominational fiction about pretty much any religious fiction is going to cause people to react that way. It’s not purely about Mary Magdalene–I would have appreciated more of the detail that went into George’s first two books–but, perhaps necessarily, the second half is concerned as much with Jesus as with Mary.

As for what to read next….try Margaret George’s other books. There are several, and they’re all bricks; I think George is just shy of Gabaldon’s total page count by now. Her later books are similarly about historical women. Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent may be another possibility; it’s not about Mary Magdalene, but rather a little-known daughter of Jacob.

Smithsonian article

1Yes, yes, I know. Scholars of the ‘official’ New Testament and the later works have talked this to death.
2Bear with the author here; she’s going by what the New Testament called it, not what actually happened or what modern medicine would have called it.

The Lumberyard and Mrs. Barrie by Jane Barrie

Ever wonder what it’s like to own your own business? Don’t, unless you’re prepared to do a lot more billing and personnel management than dealing with the projects of your dreams. Perhaps you’ve thought how much overlap there is between men’s and women’s spheres? More than many men would like to admit, even prior to the surge in Women’s Lib in the 1970s.

The Lumberyard and Mrs. Barrie is a more or less autobiographical work, published in 1952, about one woman’s stepping into the financial shoes of her husband’s assistant when he reveals that the lumberyard/building supplies business he owns and runs isn’t doing as well as he’s made out over the previous six years. In fact, it was foundering completely and on the verge of going out of business…a fact the husband was doing his best to keep from his wife despite her having invested $15,000 of her own money, almost all she had, in his business to keep it afloat.

It is not until the husband allows as how he’d better not take her to Paris on their second honeymoon because the business is a trifle shaky that she suspects there’s something seriously amiss. Her husband’s one of those charming but more than slightly happy-go-lucky people who can charm the socks of anyone he sets his sights on, but without a scrap of business sense, much less the heart of granite required to dun people who’ve fallen behind in their payments to him. It is perhaps a measure of his own charm that he has managed to cajole his own creditors into extending as much as they have…but even this much credit is coming to a rapid end. The wife comes in the next day to find two haphazard women in the office, one who does billing and one who does receipts, neither of whom have any idea what is owed in the other’s purview, and none of the clerks and suppliers who work the sales floor arrived, despite it being half an hour after the business is supposed to have opened.

Horrified, she takes the business in hand quite firmly. The two other women begin working together to sort out all the piles of paperwork into something a modern office would recognize as “organized”. The sales staff begin arriving on or before the store’s opening time. Trucks go out fully loaded each morning as soon as they’ve been filled with the previous day’s orders…and if they arrive back at the main store before the end of the day, they’re loaded with orders that have been received that day since the trucks’ departure for the next morning’s deliveries. Hardest, but perhaps most important of all, Mrs. Barrie then begins work on collecting the monies owed the business while negotiating terms of payment for the creditors on what they owe others.

When she started at the lumberyard, the scuttlebutt was that it had no more than a few weeks left to stay in business, and her threat of filing bankruptcy (and therefore allowing creditors only pennies on the dollar and not many pennies at that) if those selfsame creditors refused to accept her payment plans was all too believable. While the company had good cash flow, the overhead was too close to income for comfort and staffing was inefficient. However, she managed to collect something like 80% of the $110,000 worth of debts owed the company while paying down well over $200,000 in credit lines to them…all within two years. Indeed, she’d negotiated payment plans (and honored them!) well enough that within a year the wholesalers supplying them had gone from insisting on C.O.D. deliveries to accepting sixty-day payments on deliveries shipped on a regular schedule without having been ordered….and the bank had quit sending nastygrams within six months.

This is one of the books I picked up on the course of stocking an on-line bookstore; I’m not sure how widely it’s held these days so (with apologies) this may be something of a teaser entry for readers without access to a decent Interlibrary Loan system. (If you haven’t got a library card at all, much less any idea what this “interlibrary loan” is, shame on you. You know what to do!) For more avid readers, ‘Jane Barrie’ was a pseudonym for Mildred Savage, and I’m sure that the name of their home town, as well as of their chief competitor and their main clients, wase equally fictitious. I suspect that she had a bit more innate talent, not to mention training in business technique, than she let on; I think the book’s intended to be more a screwball comedy memoir than the account of a woman proud to be a strong-minded businesswoman.

What to read next? That depends on whether you liked the period piece aspects of the book or the descriptions of the wife’s perspective on working in what is, after all, even today largely a man’s world, that of home renovation and related fields, such as carpentry, plumbing, and bricklaying. If it’s the former, I’d suggest Betty MacDonald’s autobiographies, her sister’s books, or perhaps Jean Kerr’s collections of magazine articles. If it’s the latter, perhaps something along the lines of Helter Shelter or Dreaming in the Dust. All of these books have the same sort of light-hearted take on their various subjects, to varying degrees, though the writing styles have changed considerably in the thirty years between the two clusters’ publication.

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages

Told from the perspective of two tween daughters of two different scientists involved with the Los Alamos component of the Manhattan project, The Green Glass Sea is an interesting take on the Trinity testing, a project in a town so secret that it isn’t on any map, nor are any residents of the military base able to mention even their general career descriptor, such as “chemist” or “physicist”, for fear that someone not affiliated with the project will wonder why there are so many scientists congregating on a military base out in the middle of the New Mexico desert.

As the book begins, Dewey Kerrigan is traveling by train to be with her father in Los Alamos. A somewhat shy girl, with a penchant for tinkering with machinery and a limp resulting from an improperly healed broken leg, Dewey doesn’t fit in very well with her schoolmates’ idea of proper “girl” behavior; she gets on better with the boys than the girls, and better with adults than children–she’s on a first name basis with several of the scientists working on the “gadget”, as it is known on the base. She quickly is given the nickname “Screwy Dewey” for her mechanical tastes, and precise habits.

Suze is already residing on the military base, though not yet part of the social structure of her tween peer group; she desperately wants to get in good with the girls her age but is as an awkward an outsider as Dewey–she’s been nicknamed “Truck” for her size and awkward manners.

Filtered through the eyes of the tween and teen-aged narrators, there are only hints as to what is going on, though through seventy years of political maneuvering, it’s quite clear to adult readers (and I hope kids?) what the nucleus of the scientists’ efforts is. The Green Glass Sea is more a description of the sequence of events than a delving into the emotional background of Klages’ characters. What all this meant to the kids was somewhat different from the adults, who at least had their work to absorb them: dislocation, separation from their normal life before the project, and they can’t even say that their parents are scientists or mail drawings of the view out their windows to their family living elsewhere.

And to cap things off, Dewey must come to stay with Suze’s family while her father is posted elsewhere for a couple of weeks. Blech! The two girls–one artistic, one mechanically minded–scrape along together better than they expected, though one would hardly call them friends.

The book’s climax comes, not surprisingly to adults, with “Trinity”; the two girls are woken at dark o’clock and taken out to the desert to watch, though to them all it means is a bright light, seen from afar. (It was a bit more exciting for the adults, trust me: at the time, no one knew quite what would happen, other than a very large flash and bang.) Not too long after that, Suze’s father arranges a trip out to the blast site; the heat of the “gadget” has not only blown out a crater but fused the sand into a bowl-shaped sheet of green glass, vaguely resembling sea glass. They can’t stay long as it’s still quite radioactive, but they explore a bit, and bring home fragments of the green glass.

There’s a sequel, White Sands, Red Menace, that’s well worth the read for anyone who liked the first. The Gordons, and Dewey, have moved from Los Alamos with the closure of that project to Alamagordo, New Mexico. The father is working TO create working rockets, with the aid of Werner Von Braun, and the mother is busy with political activist groups who want to end just such research. Dewey and Suze are now in eighth grade, and wrestling with all the problems of adolescence. Suze befriends some of the local Hispanic families, but the worst disruption for all the family members comes when Dewey’s mother, a leather wearing “go with the flow” motorcyclist, appears to reclaim her daughter.

Klages caught my eye with her short story, “In the House of the Seven Librarians”, about a girl raised by seven feral librarians who remain behind in the Carnegie building left empty when the town’s library moves to more suitably modern facilities; that’s a wonderful quirky fantasy, ideal for those of us who wouldn’t mind a bit being raised thus. The Green Glass Sea, while not a fantasy, is equally well written. At the risk of turning off kids with the work (whispers) schoolwork, I can see this fitting in well to a module on World War II, but it’s a fun read; I hope kids will read this anyway.

Ellen Klages’ web site

A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer

Nhamo is a barely prepubescent orphan, living with her Aunt Chipo in a village in Mozambique which holds to the traditional culture of the area; her mother is dead, killed by leopards, and her father fled before Nhamo’s birth after he killed a man called Gore Mtoko–only her Abuya (grandmother) remembers Nhamo’s father clearly. Chipo does not much care for Nhamo, the child of the prettiest sister, preferring her own daughter to her niece. The two cousins get on reasonably well despite this, and they both do the many chores needed; Nhamo is no true Cinderella. After an epidemic of cholera runs through the village, leaving the surviving villagers weak despite intervention from the local nganga (doctor), they contact the local muvuki to determine if the continuing illness is due to witchcraft rather than aftereffects of cholera.

The muvuki determines that the spirit of the man Nhamo’s father killed is demanding restitution. “Abuya” claims she has already done so, with two cows, but this was not enough for the spirit. Aunt Chipo appears to channel the spirit of the dead man, claiming that only the marriage of Nhamo to his surviving brother will remove the haunting and leave the village in peace. Abuya, knowing that said brother is a cruel man and a bad husband, sends Nhamo off to search for her father and his family to escape this marriage. Nhamo takes the boat of the local fisher, dead in the cholera epidemic, and as many supplies as she can carry, and sets off upriver for Zimbabwe. Needless to say, the trip is arduous and terrifying for a girl who’s never been alone away from home before; she’s always been surrounded by family and in familiar areas–but she perseveres, even settling for a time on an island midway across Lake Cahora Bassa to refit her boat and grow more supplies. Upon crossing into Zimbabwe, she is taken in by a small scientific community studying the effects of the tsetse fly, who are reluctant to send her back once they find out why she fled. They do, however, send her on to her father’s family, once they’re locate, with the promise to take her back if that proves unsuitable.

After a struggle, she does settle in with her father’s family–her father is long dead–even going to school, but retains the option of going back to the scientists who took her in.

Who’d like to read this? Possibly kids who liked Island of the Blue Dolphins but wondered what happened next, or wished it had a happy ending. (Karana’s fate was mixed, I’m sorry to say) Unfortunately, it’s the kind of book that gets assigned in classes, as a result of its Deep Meaningful Exploration of women’s rights in developing nations, and about a spunky girl who breaks ties with everything she knows to do what’s right by outside standards.

Overall, I’d call it a better introduction to the culture for “foreign ghosts” than her other book about this part of Africa, The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, as she left out the science fiction aspects and concentrated on the culture. Farmer seems to have done a sensitive sympathetic job of creating a character belonging to a culture with which she does at least have a passing familiarity–she lived in Mozambique and Zimbabwe for several years–but I wouldn’t mind seeing more books by authors who are Mozambican themselves.