Friday, June 10, 2016

Pulitzer Prize Nominee Eowyn Ivey's THE SNOW CHILD

Christal Cooper

Christal Rice Cooper:

In November 1920 in the Wolverine River of Alpine, Alaska lives married and childless couple Mabel and Jack who have spent the past two years in the harsh terrain of Alaska.
Brazil Jacket Cover 

       Jack and Mabel, both in their 50s, have been married for over twenty years, both haunted by their childless status and the stillborn baby Mabel birthed in their home state of Pennsylvania.  It is Mabel’s idea to move from their city and comfortable home to Alaska when she sees a handbill advertising for farmers to homestead the Alaskan land along the new train route.

                                       Dutch Jacket Cover 

        It is not the Swiss-like hills of Alaska that Mabel is seeking; she is trying to escape the empty womb symbolized by the stillborn baby buried in their backyard.
       Jack is not seeking a fertile Alaska nor to escape what is buried in their ground but to make his wife smile like she used to.

       He thought of Mabel, that small, sad smile and the wince at the inside corners of her eyes that should have made tears but ever did.
Page 21

                                       French Jacket Cover 

       Now the couple is fighting against a harsh and bitter landscape as infertile as Mable’s womb, driving the couple even more apart.  Jack and Mabel are barely making ends meet, surviving on monies from the sale of Mabel’s pies to the local hotel restaurant, the sale of Jack’s portion of the family farm back to the family, and Jack’s small harvest of potatoes and carrots. 

                                    Italian Jacket Cover 

When the first snowfall of the season blankets the Alaska landscape, Jack and Mabel experience something they hadn’t experience since they moved to Alaska – a revival of romantic love the couple express to one another by building a snow child out of the freshly fallen snow, birch branches, yellow grass, and frozen wild cranberries.  Mabel clothes the snow child in red mittens and a red scarf her sister Ada stitched.   After the couple completes their creation they go into their bedroom and make love.

                          Norway Jacket Cover 

The very next day Jack sees her first – just a little girl wearing the same red mittens and scarf dancing through the Alaskan forest with her red wolf as her only companion.   He then notices the missing snow child he and his wife had created the night before has melted, the red scarf and mittens missing, and only child-like footprints visible, leading from the melted snow-child to the forest where he had spotted the girl only minutes before.  The next day Mabel encounters the mysterious girl.

The girl was crouched, her back to Mabel, white-blonde hair fanned down her blue wool coat.  Wondering if she should call out, Mabel cleared her throat, and the sound startled the child.
Page 56

Polish Jacket Cover 

       Jack looks for the little girl only to have the girl find Jack first, not to reveal the mystery of who she is, but to lead him to a large moose that guarantees he and Mabel enough food to last until their crop comes in the next spring.

       But it was something about the child, too.  Without her, he never would have seen the moose.  She led him here and alerted him when, like a clod, he had passed by the animal.  She moved through the forest with the grace of a wild creature.  She knew the snow, and it carried her gently.  She knew the spruce trees, how to slip among their limbs, and she knew the animals, the fox and ermine, the moose and songbirds.  She knew this land by heart.
Page 65

                                    Spanish Jacket Cover 

       Jack leaves the girl presents on a big tree stump – sourdough biscuits, peppermint candy, Mable’s pies, and a store bought blonde and blue-eyed porcelain doll. 
The snow girl leaves Jack and Mabel her own gifts for them:  Birch bark basket full of frozen blueberries, a white erice pelty, arctic craylie cleaned and ready to cook, and a dead snowshoe hare.

                           Lithenia Jacket Cover 

       Mabel is convinced the girl is magic – similar to the Russia fairy tale Segurochka or The Snow Maiden her father, a literature professor, would read to her and her sister Ada as children.  Mable writes to her sister asking her to mail the book to her.  When Mabel receives the letter and book from her sister she is convinced that the Russian fairy tale is now reality and tries everything in her power to give the snow girl a happier ending – so different from the Russian fairytale.
       Jack is far more the realist – he believes she is a messanger of some sort. 

       Jack was certain her visits were driven by more than curiosity or huger.  It was something akin to sorrow or weariness like a bruise in the skin beneath her eyes.
Page 103

                                   United Kingdom Jacket Cover 

       Then something happens to Jack and his only hope of recovery is rest, Laudanum, moonshine, and much needed help from the Benson Family, their closest neighbors who live downriver in town.  Mother Ester and her son Garrett come to help and make what was thought to be dead alive again. 

                                        French Jacket Cover 

       Six years later Garrett is on his own quest – wanting to be a hunter rather than follow his farmer father’s footsteps.  When Garret and the snow girl encounter each other in the deep Alaska wilderness, another love story is born, and the mystery of the snow girl is revealed, only to leave behind a brand new mystery that grows with each passing snowfall

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Chris Rice Cooper On The New York Times Bestseller LILAC GIRLS by Martha Hall Kelly . . .

Christal Cooper

Excerpts granted copyright privilege Martha Hall Kelly
and Ballantine Books

Photos granted copyright privilage by Martha Hall Kelly unless otherwise noted.  

Read the CRC BLOG analysis on the prequel to Lilac Girls - LOST ROSES

Chris Rice Cooper Analysis On
Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls:
The Trinity of Fact, Fiction, and Poetry
Via The Voices of Three Women

                                                 Martha Hall Kelly
                                                 Copyright granted by Martha Hall Kelly

Martha Hall Kelly’s first novel Lilac Girls was published on April 5, 2016 by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York

Lilac Girls takes place between 1939 to 1959 and is told through the viewpoint of three women, all based on real life figures: Caroline Ferriday in New York City, Kasia Kuzmerick (loosely based on Nina Iwanska) in Poland, and Dr. Herta Oberheuser in Germany.

Caroline Ferriday 
Map depicting Caroline's New York World 

Attributed to Holly Hollon
Copyright granted by Martha Hall Kelly

Nina Iwanska

Map depicting Kasia's Lublin World
Attributed to Holly Hollon
Copyright granted by Martha Hall Kelly

                                         Dr. Herta Oberheuser

Caroline, an ex-Broadway actress, single, and wealthy philanthropist, has dedicated her life to helping those in need. Lilac Girls begins in September of 1939 with Caroline living in New York City, working at the French Consulate by day, and attending fancy parties by night, where she meets the rich, political, and the famous, from Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, Rockfellers, Marilyn Monroe, and Senator John F Kennedy. 

                        Caroline Ferriday                       

However, the person who captures her heart is not the political and rich, but the fictional French actor Paul Rodierre, whom Kelly modeled after three actors:  Alain Delon, Olivier Giroud, and Romain Duris.

                                  Alain Delon

                                             Olivier Giroud in 11/2013 Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law
                                        Romain Duris in 2014 CCBYSA 2.0

“I have a feeling you don’t work for the money.”

“It’s an unsalaried position, if that’s what you mean, but that’s not a question asked in polite society, Monsieur.”

“Can we dispense with the ‘Monsieur’?  Makes me feel ancient.”

“First names?  We’ve only just met.”

“It’s 1939.”

“Manhattan society is like a solar system with its own order.  A single woman dining with a married man is enough to throw planets out of alignment.”

Seventeen-year old Kasia, is helplessly in love with Pietrik and joins him in the Underground Resistance Movement. Kasia, her sister Zuzana Kuzmerick (loosely based on Krystyna Iwanska), their mother Matka Kuzmerick, Pietrik, and others are arrested. 

       Nina Iwanska

Krystyna Iwanka

       The whistle screamed, long and high, as the train slid into a station.

       Matka pushed through the women and stood with me.  “What do you see?”

       I held her hand.  ‘Sign says Furstenberg-Mecklenburg.”

       There were women on the platform, blonde giantesses wearing hooded capes over their gray uniforms.  One threw a cigarette down and squashed it with her boot. A few held dark Alsatians at their sides.  The dogs seemed to anticipate our arrival, watching the train cars go by much as a pet waits for its owner.  Had they done this before?

       “Germany,” a woman behind me said, craning her neck to see.

       Luiza cried out. The train whistle screamed a second time, and my breath again started coming hard.

       Matka held my hand tighter.  “Must be a labor camp.”

       “I can see a church steeple,” I said.  The thought of the Germans of that town sitting in church on Sundays with their hymnals was comforting.

       “God-fearing people,” said someone.

       “Furstenberg?” said Mrs. Mikelsky.  “I know it.  This is a resort town!”

       “As long as we work hard, we will be fine,” Matka said.

       I curled my hands around the iron window bars to steady myself as the train lurched to a stop.  “At least they know the commandments,” I said.

       None of us knew how wrong we were that morning as we stepped out of that train and fell headlong into hell.

                                 Ravensbruck Housing For The Women

The three Kuzmerick women are sent to Ravensbruck, the only concentration camp reserved for women and children, where they cross paths with Dr. Herta Oberheuser, the newest surgeon selected to conduct experiments on 74 Polish women. 

             Dr. Herta Oberheuser standing trial for her war crimes against humanity.
These women, which include Kasia and Zuzanna, are called the Rabbits, a name given them because they were Nazi experimental animals and hopped after being forced to endure inhumane operations. 

             An Unidentified Rabbit.
The Rabbits are bathed, placed in clean beds, their legs shaven, given aesthesia, legs cut open, and then drenched in bacteria with dirt, splinters, glass, and other foreign materials, causing their legs to swell with increasing pain, chronic thirst, and dangerous and sometimes fatal fevers reaching all of their infirmities.  Days later the plaster from their legs are removed, their wounds scraped clean with no aesthesia, and then treated with various experimental drugs. 

              Rabbit's legs after inhumane operation            

The purpose for these so-called medical experiments was to discover the best drugs to treat Nazi wounded soldiers.  
There were a few things that surprised me as a reader, the first, was that a historical novel about devastating atrocities could be written in colorful, vibrant, and poetic language.  Kelly masters the art of similes and metaphors that add to the pleasure of reading the novel, while maintaining great storytelling, and all without diminishing the evil that occurred.  
An example of this descriptive and rich writing is via Dr. Herta’s voice when she describes the hands of her former medical school classmate and real life Ravensbruck Doctor Fritz Fischer.

                              Dr. Fritz Fischer 

“Don’t you know you’re not allowed in the officers’ canteen without permission?”  Fritz said.  He lit a cigarette with a gold lighter, his hands white and almost incandescent, as if dipped in milk.  Hands you might expect to see on a famous pianist.  Hands that had never touched a spade.

The second was I assumed the three women knew one another or cross each others path.  That is not the case.  Caroline and Dr. Herta never cross paths.  Dr. Herta and Kasia cross paths in 1941.  Caroline and Kasia cross paths in 1957 when Caroline along with other rich donors, sponsors to have the Rabbits travel to America to receive top rate medical evaluation and medical treatment.

              Ravensbruck Rabbits who traveled to America in 1958

              Ravensbruck Rabbits in 1959
Thirdly, I assumed the three women on the cover were Caroline, Kasia, and Dr. Herta, but the three women on the cover are the Kuzmerick women.

I would have liked to see Caroline on the cover especially since its title comes from the over 14 varieties of lilacs she helped grow in the gardens of her family home, the Hay, in Bethlehem, Connecticut, and last but not least, she is the founder of the Ravensbruck Rabbits Committee, and savior to these women.

                     The Hay           
                       Caroline tending to the garden at The Hay

             Lilac Garden at The Hay

I would have liked to see Dr. Herta, evil as she was, on the cover since she is one of the three narrators of the novel. 
The perfect cover would be to have all three speakers of the book represented:  Caroline and Kasia arms linked and walking in unison it the same direction, and, in the background, Dr. Herta wearing her white surgeon’s uniform, the swastika displayed on her sleeve.  And perhaps the Kuzmerick family ring on Kasia’s finger.

       Fourthly and lastly, I never realized the severe PTSD, mental illness, desperation, and survival guilt these Rabbits, particularly Kasia endured after the so-called liberation in 1945.  Their pain goes beyond the boundaries of physical pain, affecting the spirit and the mentality of these women.

                      Ravensbruk Liberation in February of 1945

Most of Kasia’s pain stems from the events surrounding the arrest, disappearance, and mystery of her mother.  This mystery and guilt she carries of her mother is more debilitating than the chronic pain she feels in her deformed leg.  

                             Nina Iwanska

                             Rabbit's leg

The chapters alternate between the three women, each chapter ending at a high cliff note – leaving you hanging on a roller coaster, impatient to know what happens next.  The suspense is intense because the order is Caroline, Kasia, and Herga and by the time you find out what happens with each woman, before you reach the end of the chapter, you are hooked again. 

One of the most intense scenes is toward the end of the book when Kasia, with Caroline’s help and direction, finds Dr. Herta.  What occurs is intense, explosive and leaves the reader at the edge of his/her seat.

                   Dr. Herta Oberheuser standing trial for crimes against humanity 
       In the end, literally to the last page of the 494-page novel, Lilac Girls is Kasia’s story, not one of despair, survival guilt, or unbearable pain, but one of triumph and victory.

       Kasia, along with all the other Rabbits and women who endured the Holocaust, are the Lilac Girls, and they will forever flourish and grow for the betterment of all humanity.