Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A Free Unsullied Land by Maggie Kast

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Book Information
Genre: Historical fiction
  • Paperback: 371 pages
  • Publisher: Fomite (November 1, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1942515219
  • ISBN-13: 978-1942515210

Synopsis: Nineteen-year-old Henriette Greenberg takes her first steps away from an abusive home on the dance floor of a Chicago jazz dive in prohibition-era Chicago and is enraptured by this new music. Struggling to escape a mother who doesn’t like girls and a father who likes young women all too well, she submerges herself in bad sex and political action. She meets and falls in love with Dilly Brannigan, a graduate student in anthropology. Ignoring his warnings, she travels to Scottsboro, Alabama to protest the unfair conviction of nine young black men accused of rape. She adopts Dilly’s work as her own. A powerful funeral ritual gives her hope of re-writing her family story but tempts her to violate an Apache taboo, endangering her life, her love, and her longed-for escape from home.

Review: This book was difficult to read in parts, as it dealt with a time in history when there was so much blatant discrimination. The main character had a difficult childhood thanks to her dysfunctional parents, and that has made it difficult for her to make her own way in the world. 

The author does an amazing job of making this story come to life with her words. She takes us across the United States, exploring Depression -era politics, academia, cultural bias, and prejudice along the way. The characters are well-written, even though they are not all easily likable.

**I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughs and opinions are entirely my own.**

Rating: Four stars

Reading and Writing and Reading

Most of the time I read in order to teach myself to write. When I was working on my memoir, The Crack between the Worlds: a dancer’s memoir of loss, faith and family, I read non-fiction accounts of loss, dance memoirs and craft books like Sven Birkerts’ Then, Again: The Art of Time in Memoir. Birkerts’ own memoir, My Sky-Blue Trades, taught me how to interweave scene and summary in this genre, while Amos Oz’ A Tale of Love and Darkness taught me the value of a repeated image in a long and multi-layered account: “I was awoken by the sound of a bird,” he writes, “which greeted the day with the first five notes of Beethoven’s “Für Elise . . .in my heart I called the bird Elise.” Looking through Oz’s book as I write this post, I remember that I played “Für Eliseas a child at my first, scary, piano recital. But Oz’s masterful, beautiful use of the image goes way beyond the music’s familiarity to me. On a later occasion, he writes, “The bird sang with wonderment, awe, gratitude, exaltation. . .” And at the book’s end, “The bird Elise called to her again and again in and love in times that are dark.
While editing my new novel, A Free, Unsullied Land, Marc Estrin of Fomite Press asked for more historical material and period detail. I struggled to comply without losing the story among the facts. Members of my writing group suggested I read various historical novels, and I started with Colum McCann’s Transatlantic, which takes place in three different times and places. Each is rendered fully, facts reinforcing the fiction and details of diction and dress bringing the period to life. Amy Bloom’s Lucky Us showed me how a few lines of summary can put the reader in the middle of World War II, with its Enemy Alien Control Program. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn showed me how a line of dialogue could reveal a whole cultural outlook, mindset, and diction of another time.
But now that my novel is out and I’m struggling to arrange events, travel and other publicity, I’ve discovered a new kind of reading that soothes my jangled nerves and indulges me with glimpses of small-town life in the Dordogne, France. Bruno of Bruno, Chief of Police is the kind of cop who puts his town and its traditions above the uniform regulations of the European Union, welcomes strangers into his community, and solves crimes over a well-cooked meal. He is an unpretentious hero (the only municipal officer in his town), welcomes diversity and seasons suspense with wonderful food. I’m about to start The Dark Vineyard, a sequel. Bruno’s creator, Martin Walker, is Senior Director of the Global Business Policy Council and has numerous publications on subjects like the Cold War and the Iraq War. With Bruno’s adventures he’s having some well-deserved fun, and so am I.  

About the author
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Maggie Kast is the author of The Crack between the Worlds: a dancer's memoir of loss, faith and family, published by Wipf and Stock. She received an M.F.A. in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has published fiction in The Sun, Nimrod, Carve, Paper Street and others.
A chapter of her memoir, published in ACM/Another Chicago Magazine, won a Literary Award from the Illinois Arts Council and a Pushcart nomination. A story published in Rosebud and judged by Ursula Leguin won an Honorable Mention in their fantasy fiction contest.
Kast’s essays have appeared in America, Image, Writer's Chronicle and elsewhere. Her first novel, A Free, Unsullied Land, was released from Fomite Press in November 2015. An excerpted story, “The Hate that Chills,” won 3rd prize in the Hackney Literary Contests and was published in Volume 12, Issue 2 of the Birmingham Arts Journal.
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