Sunday, March 30, 2014

Book Review - Last Letters from Attu

by Mary Breu

There are some stories which must be told.

The true story of Etta Jones is one of those stories. In 1922, at the age of 42, Etta Schureman left a busy life in Pittsburgh to vacation just one year in Alaska. She met and married her soulmate, Charles Foster Jones. Together, for the next 20 years, they became one with the Alaskan people. Etta was a teacher and Foster was always there lending his practical skills and first-hand knowledge of Alaska.

In August, 1941, Etta and Foster accepted positions to Attu, the last island in the Aleutian chain. All 45 people-half of them children-lived in this isolated, wind-swept island continuing the life lived by their ancestors for centuries. Tensions between America and Russia were of little concern to the Attu people or to Etta and Foster.

On June 6, 1942, Attu was invaded by 2,000 Japanese soldiers and Etta became a Japanese prisoner of war. She experienced physical deprivation, mental abuse, and emotional trauma in different Japanese camps where she was supervised by those relentless in their degradation of prisoners of war.

Etta Jones was a letter-writer. For this, we are grateful because Mary Breu, the grand-niece of Etta Jones, took these letters combined them with government documents and archival pictures to make right the story of Etta Jones as a Japanese prisoner-of-war.

Hattie’s Book Club was privileged to have Mary Breu as their guest speaker for the March meeting. Writing about a family member who experienced the horrors of war was not easy, but it needed to be done. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Book Review - The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden
by Kate Morton

There is an abundance of information about The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. Google the title and read frequently asked questions answered by the author.

By doing so, you will find that The Forgotten Garden is based on a true event in Kate Morton’s family which determined in Ms. Morton’s own words that “…one day I would write a story about someone who experienced a similar life-changing confession.” Ms. Morton childhood readings included The Faraway Tree, Anne of Green Gables, and numerous fairy tales. She reflects that these books sparked in her “…a lifetime love of English countryside, dark, creepy woods, and hidden mysteries.”  The 19th century gothic conventions like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights also impacted her as a writer. 

Take all these literary influences and you have a frame for The Forgotten Garden. It is a mystery of a child abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. The youngster does not know her name or why she is on the ship. Eventually “Nell” begins a journey to discover herself and her elusive past. Cassandra, her granddaughter, continues the journey to find that families have secrets which destroy some people while binding others in surprising ways. There are love stories on multiple levels with different motivations for each relationship that cause lovers to questions their feelings and ponder how to cope with their own emotions. 

It is maybe helpful to make a diagram while reading The Forgotten Garden as the character’s relationships can become a bit of a maze, both literally and figuratively. Ms. Morton takes 3 women in 3 different times and intertwines their lives in such a way that the reader wants to keep turning the pages to solve the mystery.