Tag Archives: Family History

Lawrence Hill – Blood (2013)

bloodHaving read a number of Lawrence Hill’s works, it is clear to me that Blood plays a prominent role in all of them. When I saw that he had presented, and published a series of essays dealing with the theme of blood I was intrigued.

Overall the essays are not groundbreaking, but they are presented in a very accessible and highly engaging way. The five essays are organized roughly by theme. The first is a general overview and personal account about Hill’s fascination with blood, the second looks at the connection between blood, truth, and honour; the third is about blood ties and belonging; the fourth deals with blood as power; and the last looks at the secrets that can be found in blood.

In each essay Hill brings together a wealth of knowledge with references to popular culture acknowledging wide held beliefs about blood. Overall I liked Hill’s treatment of the subject, and I liked his nonfiction much better than any of his novels that I have read. Blood is indeed a fascinating thing, and Hill does a good job treating it as such.

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Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell – Empty Mansions (2013)

EmptyMansionsHugette Clark is a name that I have come across a handful of times; a name used when talking about wealthy eccentric reclusive women. When I saw that this book was about the Gilded Age as well as the Clark family I was intrigued and excited to read it. Unfortunately I had much higher hopes that Dedman and Newell were unable to deliver on.

First off Paul Clark Newell is a distant relation of Hugette Clark, and so in this book she is portrayed in a very flattering light. I’m not saying that I think she’s a terrible person. There is no evidence to that, nor is there actually much about her out there. But I do think that the writers of this book are way more than willing to view Hugette as a victim, who has been taken advantage of by the people around her, most notably the hospitals in which she lived out the end of her days.

I was really hoping that the book would provide a bit more information about the Gilded Age, the great families living on 5th Avenue in Manhattan and the total displays of wealth that accompanied their lifestyles. There is a bit of this at the beginning of the book. In fact a menu from one of Hugette’s father’s dinner parties is included which I obviously found fascinating (I will be attempting to make something off of this menu in the coming weeks). Still, the last two thirds of the book were all about family history and trying to discern the kind of person Hugette was.

In short the book was mediocre for me. Nothing really stood out. I was expecting a grand narrative of New York in the Gilded Age and instead got a pieced together family history. Some of the anecdotes were amusing and there were some interesting facts strewn about, but overall the book just fell flat for me.

Jeffrey Eugenides – Middlesex (2002)

Middlesex

Fictional Memoirs are an interesting genre. The writer must immerse him/herself in his/her character to literally feel and experience everything that that person is going through. For his novel, Eugenides’ character is Cal (Calliope), an intersex man of Greek descent. The novel is a family history, and Eugenides is able to draw on his own Greek heritage to create this spellbinding story.

Eugenides accomplishes an interesting thing. This is not only a story about Calliope’s journey of self-discovery, nor is it strictly a family history: It is in some ways a history of the United States and the “American Dream.” The novel begins with Cal’s grandparents in their village in Greece and recounts their escape from the invading Turkish army. We then travel to Detroit in the 1920s and the Depression of the 1930s. Cal’s father serves in the Pacific during the Second World War and returns to marry his cousin. The family is caught in the middle of the race riots of the 1950s and relocates to the suburbs before Cal’s brother leave for College and gets swept up in the spirit of the 1960s. This is when Cal’s story takes off as Calliope begins to realize she is not meant to be a girl. We learn about medical attitudes of the 1970s and experiences San Francisco as a place where “deviants” were hidden and comforted by the fog.

The story is told from Cal’s point of view and Eugenides uses interesting narrative devices to make this believable. Often times Cal will refer to “Calliope” in the third-person, making sure the reader knows he does not identify as being her any more. Eugenides however, also treats Cal and Calliope as the same person in terms of narrative device. Throughout the novel Eugenides also alludes to aspects of Greek mythology adding a sense of whimsy to the story. Middlesex is not only a beautiful read but also a social commentary. I devoured this book and highly recommend it.