TRUE SISTERS

A calamitous chapter in American history is illustrated by the intertwined tales of four women who survived it.

The settling of the American West is full of stories, but one of its greatest tales of heroism and endurance is not well known. In the mid-1800s, Mormon leader Brigham Young instructed the followers of his new religion to leave their lives in the sinful Old World and travel to Zion, or Salt Lake, to what would one day be Utah. At his command, hundreds traveled to Iowa City, the westernmost point of the railroad, and constructed wooden handcarts, chosen for their economy, to make the 1,300-mile trek by foot. Despite the challenges—the wood was green and many, formerly city dwellers, were unfit for the journey—some groups traveled safely. Not so the Martin Company, 650 who set out in July 1856 to find ferocious heat, starvation and deadly winter storms before arriving. To illustrate this forgotten chapter, Dallas (The Bride's House, 2011, etc.) focuses on four women: Louisa, the adoring bride of a company leader; Anne, a non-Mormon who resents her convert husband for forcing her from an easy life in London; lovelorn Nannie, who travels to support her beloved, pregnant sister and brother-in-law; and Jessie, a self-reliant farm girl who chafes at the religion's strict rules. Together with a detailed cast of supporting characters, they bear and bury children and other loved ones, finding a kind of sisterhood and inner strength. They are further burdened (and bound) by the rampant sexism of the new faith, which encourages polygamy and views new women as "fresh fish." Dallas' vivid prose makes the journey's escalating hardships feel real, as Anne "no longer kept track of time or distance, just pushed the cart in a kind of daze, her mind as much a blur as the snow that fell." Readers enticed by the HBO program Big Love will be particularly interested in the origins of this insular community. This fact-based historical fiction, celebrating sisterhood and heroism, makes for a surefire winner. 

 

Pub Date: April 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-250-00502-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

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A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

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THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK

One of Kentucky’s last living “Blue People” works as a traveling librarian in 1930s Appalachia.

Cussy Mary Carter is a 19-year-old from Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. She was born with a rare genetic condition, and her skin has always been tinged an allover deep blue. Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner who relentlessly attempts to marry her off. Unfortunately, with blue skin and questionable genetics, Cussy is a tough sell. Cussy would rather keep her job as a pack-horse librarian than keep house for a husband anyway. As part of the new governmental program aimed at bringing reading material to isolated rural Kentuckians, Cussy rides a mule over treacherous terrain, delivering books and periodicals to people of limited means. Cussy’s patrons refer to her as “Bluet” or “Book Woman,” and she delights in bringing them books as well as messages, medicine, and advice. When a local pastor takes a nefarious interest in Cussy, claiming that God has sent him to rid society of her “blue demons,” efforts to defend herself leave Cussy at risk of arrest, or worse. The local doctor agrees to protect Cussy in exchange for her submission to medical testing. As Doc finds answers about Cussy’s condition, she begins to re-examine what it means to be a Blue and what life after a cure might look like. Although the novel gets off to a slow start, once Cussy begins traveling to the city for medical testing, the stakes get higher, as does the suspense of the story. Cussy's first-person narrative voice is engaging, laced with a thick Kentucky accent and colloquialisms of Depression-era Appalachia. Through the bigotry and discrimination Cussy suffers as a result of her skin color, the author artfully depicts the insidious behavior that can result when a society’s members feel threatened by things they don't understand. With a focus on the personal joy and broadened horizons that can result from access to reading material, this well-researched tale serves as a solid history lesson on 1930s Kentucky.

A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-7152-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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