Between pages 270 and 337 he lost me. What had been promising, charming and intriguing felt contrived and became tedious. There are brilliant passages, but he could've used an editor as well as a translator. Patience might pay off eventually, but it'll take more than I can muster. No doubt this is just the right read for some, but 730 pages is more than I'm willing to do for a book I've ceased to care about.
the story of four people, all strangers to one another, who met on that train, and of how love touched their lives in very different ways. Love is nothing out of the ordinary, even if we think it is; even if we idealise it, celebrate it in poetry, sentimentalise it in coy valentines. Love happens to just about everyone; it is like measles or the diseases of childhood; it is as predictable as the losing of milk teeth, or the breaking of a boy's voice. It may visit us at any time, in our youth but also when we are much older and believe we are beyond its reach; but we are not.
It has been described as a toothache, a madness, a divine intoxication, metaphors that reflect the disturbing effect it has on our lives. It may bring surprise, joy, despair and occasionally perfect happiness. But for each person who is made happy by love, there will be many for whom it turns out to be cause for regret . . . The heart has more than its fair share of ghosts, and these ghosts may be love, in any of its many forms. p. 3-4
"It is not known for certain why this county has so many hauntings, but several theories exist . . . Not only is Georgetown County located next to the ocean, it is virtually filled with waters of the rivers that flow through its moist and fertile fields. In the last two-and-a-half centuries many individuals have died suddenly and unexpectedly here . . . The immeasurably wealthy 17th and 18th century planters, and their progeny, were known for extraordinarily dynamic personal traits and tremendous strength of will. Georgetown County rice barons and their children were often quite obsessive and possessive, and these long-gone personalities account for many of the hauntings in the region."
Georgetown, SC, population 10,000, is one of the most charming and surreal towns I've had the pleasure of visiting. The tourist literature readies you for a historic harbor-town gem, but approaching the Highway 17 bridge from Charleston the idyllic landscape of marshland and pine forest is rudely usurped by the startling and massive industrial sprawl of International Paper. It banks the horizon almost as far as the eye can see.
Along one side of the Georgetown Harbor walkway are upscale townhomes, shops, and boat slips; on the other, across the narrow bay, it's all hulking metal and dead trees.
By 1730 Georgetown was a thriving port and plantation community, primarily exporting rice and indigo. The Civil War and some early 20th century hurricanes brought a brutal end to that. Fishing and "lumbering" ensued, followed by "papering" in 1937. Most of the old rice plantations have been restored as (nonworking) private estates, open to the public once a year during a spring tour sponsored by the Women of Prince George and Winyah Episcopal Church.
The harbor walkway fronts downtown, where the charming and surreal juxtapositions continue. On the colonial main street, which includes a fine indie bookstore and maritime museum, they were having an Italian film festival at The Strand. Driving out of town, the colonial storefronts give way to seedier establishments with 1940s flair, such as a vintage cigar shop where a gathering of tatoo-ed bikers greeted me in the parking lot where I stopped to take pictures, but not of them because they asked me nicely not to.
I suspect (but failed to find out) that this once was the route to Miss Hazel's Sunset Lodge, a renowned bordello that opened for business about the same time as International Paper, when hundreds of young men came to Georgetown seeking work and play. But the working class found it to be out of their league when Miss Hazel went after big money. Her story is among my favorite ghost tales.
"After World War II, Miss Hazel's bordello established a reputation as a frolicsome diversion for the affluent. Doctors, lawyers, state and local officials and many other professionals made up most of her clientele . . . The heyday came to an abrupt end several days before Christmas in 1969 when Sheriff Woodrow Carter decreed that it must close. The order was so sudden that the girls had only a matter or hours to collect their belongings and leave. No one knows what precipitated this blunt ending of an era, but one thing was definite -- Sunset Lodge was no longer in business."
Miss Hazel, an old woman, was left destitute, and she was pissed. Friends bought the building, turned it into apartments, and provided one for her and her maid. She swore she'd never leave and evidently did not, not even in death. It eventually became the home of the Marsh family, who routinely heard or spied her wandering about and occasionally found items she had moved, as if to re-assert her authority. The Marshes didn't mind -- no ill will seemed intended, not against them. As for the sheriff, he is said to have had no end of trouble, and was spooked enough by Hazel's wrath not to go near the place again. It burned down in 1993 and, sadly, Miss Hazel has not been heard from since.
NOTE: After a long conversation with Stephen Hanks last night, I am reposting this review and shamelessly soliciting attention for the book, which is a remarkable work of genealogy and American history. During last night's conversation, I learned the identity of my great grandfather and other ancestors (all the way back to Col. George Eskridge), all the result of Stephen's research.
"I felt the most frustration during my interviews with Eskridge family members when they would ask me how I was related and to which branch of the family I belonged . . . “Well, Eliza’s surname was Eskridge, but her son William changed his surname to Hanks, which name he borrowed from the plantation overseer, who in turn took Eliza and her children . . .” It was a complicated explanation to say the least. That is the legacy that slavery has bestowed on her victims – disruption of generational family lines which virtually destroyed connections to African ancestral lines of black Americans." p. 139
Interesting that Col. George Eskridge (d.1735), the first Eskridge in America, was brought against his will from Lancaster, England, as an indentured servant to a Virginia planter, whom he served for a grueling 8 years. He then went back to England, completed a law degree, returned to Virginia, and among other things was elected to the House of Burgesses and owned 62 slaves. He also became guardian of a girl named Mary Ball, who grew up to be the mother of America’s first president, whom she named after her guardian. George Eskridge’s grandson Richard (b. 1775) would own a Mississippi plantation and have a town named after him. According to my father, we are related to the “town” Eskridges, with whom his father’s side of the family (also known as the poor side) had a falling out.
"The day had come for me to start finding slave owner Richard Eskridge’s living descendants, if indeed there were any. As I dialed the county historian’s phone number I was as nervous as could be since I didn’t quite know how to word my request. Of all the books I had read about genealogy, none of them had addressed the etiquette required for contacting descendants of the very slave master who owned your great-grandfather. Owned. I still took issue with that word. How could a living human being be owned by another?" p. 75
I happened upon this book while exploring my branch of the Eskridge family tree, and it proved to be so much more than just personally interesting. It is personal, deeply personal, but it’s also a fascinating case study in American history. I was a history major, and while reading Hanks’ meticulously researched account (completed over several years on his own initiative) I was struck by how little I was taught about slavery -- the social, political, economic and every other sort of effects, because in fact it has affected everything to do with being American. In college my focus was American history, but what I could have told you about slavery was next to nothing – a quick sweep of generalizations, a handful of profiles, but no more than a superficial understanding of its pervasive influence. Maybe things have changed in the 30 years since I got my degree but mostly I’m self-taught on the subject, and Hanks has added much to my education, and I’m not the only one. Oprah contacted him about his Winfrey family findings.
How you recount all the begats of a genealogy without lapsing into tedium or losing the reader along the way I don’t know, especially given the frustrations of piecing together an African-American genealogy, but Hanks did it. Whether I was following the methodical steps of his research or navigating the many detours I felt involved, like I’d joined him on his journey, was sharing in the frustrations and discoveries. Yes, it has to do with the Eskridge relationship, but I believe I’d feel as involved regardless, because, as noted, he has written a fascinating case study in American history, of how we as Americans are related.
The book opens with this quote from Martin Luther King: I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. The telling is an invitation to do that by way of a journey commencing in colonial Virginia and leading to the Ivory Coast, with stops along the way in South Carolina, Mississippi, Kansas and Oregon.
Just figuring it all out is so remarkable that to also share it so clearly and well seems like a bonus. I am grateful and delighted that Stephen Hanks took time to do so and I'm honored to have made this connection. Highly recommended.
"I started to make a list of the professions that were vanishing. People losing or having lost their employment included mill workers, tobacco farmers, elevator operators, shrimpers and oystermen. My friends and family added to the list while reminiscing about the past . . . For the most part many people I came to know have since adapted to different jobs or reinvented themselves, adjusting to a new world of changes. Many shrimp-boat builders now refurbish houseboats, tobacco farmers are growing organic vegetables, and sponge divers give scenic boat tours. Life has become improvisatory art . . . This series of paintings is a contemporary story told in watercolors."
One summer evening, their bed spread on the floor among the chips and splinters in the half-finished cabin, they fell to kissing. Rose, in some kind of transport began to bite her kisses, lickings and sharp nips along his neck, shoulder, in the musky crevice between his arm and torso, his nipples, until she felt him shaking and looked up to see his eyes closed, tears in his lashes, face contorted in a grimace. "Oh, Archie, I didn't mean to hurt . . ." "You did not," he groaned. "It's. I ain't never been. Loved. I just can't hardly stand it." And he began to blubber "feel like I been shot," pulling her into his arms . . .
“There is a 12-mile road on Johns Island in South Carolina that makes its way toward the ocean, and under a full moon it turns the color of an oyster shell. The road passes beneath the shadows of giant oak limbs as thick as barrels and past swayback produce stands and small wooden churches. Beyond the trees the ribbon of a creek lies in cut lengths behind the rectangular shapes of trailer homes and sheds, before it turns west to join the river. Both the road and the creek are called Bohicket. This is the road my husband and I took so many winters ago when we came south to find a new beginning. It is the road that led me to the place I now call home.”
. . . the comic futility that attends any attempt to walk there, due to the elasticity of her streets, walls and sidewalks, which send the newcomer flailing and sprawling . . .Sure, Ganzoneer isn't what most would consider graceful. Once one acclimates to her peculiar genus of motion, though, she harbors no shortage of loveliness; it wouldn't occur to her long-term residents to demean her with 'jiggles,' nor compare her to a beached cetacean. No, you are far more likely to hear them remarking on her sublime way of yielding to the slightest air current, the sensuousness of her rippling, the jaunt and jounce she lends to the most ordinary stroll.
Who didn't skip beside his shadow, marveling at it as an emperor might his lands or a peasant his erection, this view of the augmented self offering up just a whiff of omnipotence? But just when we thought it gave us boundless control, our shadow evaded us, hiding itself inside another or going its own way (priming us early for love)? Like any boy or girl, I chased mine up and down hills and on sunbaked pavements till I came rumbling, breathless, to my knees.
One day, he discovers the Epilobium sp., whose stem will eventually turn red and offer up a white flower. A library visit reveals that this is common in Finland, close enough to Germany to make him tremble. On another occasion, he stumbles onto blackberry plants. And best of all is the common cinquefoil, the glorious yellow flower he decides he'll pin in Sara's hair. He crouches with the guidebook near the ground before picking one, squinting and rubbing for the slight serration that will distinguish it from imposter weeds. The day he plucks that flower, he decides to write Heidegger.
Every story we tell about ourselves can only be told in the past tense. It winds backward from where we now stand, no longer the actors in the story but its spectators who have chosen to speak. The trail behind us is sometimes marked by stones like the ones Hansel first left behind him. Other times the path is gone, because the birds flew down and ate up all the crumbs at sunrise.
I knew that by some definition both --- and --- were insane, examples of an indifference many regard as monstrous and unnatural; but in fact they weren’t unique and their actions were recognizably human. Equating horror with the inhuman has always struck me as convenient but fallacious, if only because I was born into a century that should have ended such talk for good. For me, the lamp became the sign not of the inhuman but of the all-too-human, the lapse or break that occurs in people when empathy is gone, when others aren’t a part of us anymore but are turned into things. There is genuine irony in the fact that my empathy for --- vanished at the moment when I understood that he had not a shred of that quality in himself.
As soon as I opened the volume (of da Vinci drawings) the letters spilled out. I read and rested, read and rested, nearly panting from the strain but hungry for the next word . . . Do you remember when you told me I had beautiful knees? I never liked my knees. In fact, I thought they were ugly. But your eyes have rehabilitated them. Whether I see you again or not, I’m going to live out my life with these two beautiful knees. The letters were full of little thoughts like that one, but she also wrote: It’s important now to tell you that I love you. I held back because I was a coward. But I’m yelling it now. And even if I lose you, I’ll always say to myself – I had that. I had him, and it was delirious and sacred and sweet. And if you let me, I’ll always dote on your whole odd, savage, painting self.
. . . it had been his job for the past couple of weeks, nonetheless, trying, like everybody else, to get as much of the crop as possible out before Willis's big barbecue, too little time remaining on the clock, but wordlessly all agreeing fuck the clock, fuck it, play it to the end. Out on those runs, speeding after moonset through the smell of the redwoods, with all the lights out, trying to sense among the different patches of darkness where the curves were, and what gear to be in for grades that were nearly impossible to see, bouncing along in a vintage Power Wagon, Zoyd from somebody's collection of beat-up old 8-tracks usually found himself listening to the Eagles Greatest Hits, in particular Take It To The Limit, basically his whole story these days, singing mournfully along, though obliged from time to time to interrupt himself as some new set of headlights appeared -- "OK, Zoyd, back on defense" -- half hoping for a run-in with Brock, knowing by now it was never going to happen in any frontal way, attempting to get back his own small piece of Vineland, but out here at the periphery, in motion, out on one of the roads that had taken him away from his home, and that must lead back . . .
The rise in the diagnosis of sexual mania in women corresponded to an intense contemporary anxiety about unsatisfied female desire. It had recently come to light that there was an excess of spinsters in Britain. According to the census of 1851, the country contained half a million more women than men, chiefly because men died younger and migrated more often...Older women were especially likely to live alone: 42 percent of those between 40 and 60 were widows or spinsters. The 'redundant women' or 'involuntary nuns' revealed by the census had become the object of sociological and medical concern.
Though Dr. William Acton famously announced in 1857 that 'the majority of women, happily for them, are not much troubled by sexual feeling of any kind,' many physicians feared that single women might in fact be driven mad by suppressed and unsatsified sexual urges.