Saturday, October 31, 2009

Emily Hahn--A Wonder Woman, For Sure!

Emily “Mickie” Hahn was my kind of woman (aside from her dabble in adultery, that is). Born in 1905, she was absolutely determined to break down the thick-high barriers keeping women from, well, just about everything! She was, unequivocally, a “Wonder Woman,” if there ever was one.

Ken Cuthbertson has written a book on Hahn’s life, Nobody Said Not to Go, that I found fascinating. It made me wonder if there was any way—on God’s green earth—that I could have found the courage to tackle the exploits that Hahn did. Cuthbertson records Hahn’s amazing, cram-packed life that includes:
Gaining a college degree in mining—unheard of (often not allowed) for women in the 1920’s;

Traveling—alone!!—in 1930 through the Congo. She went halfway across the continent to visit a “friend” at a Red Cross outpost, where she stayed two years. When he went a little crazy, she left. But, did she go back the way she came? Oh, Noooo!!! She’d seen that half the continent! She gathered a little contingent of native porters and trekked across the other half, earning food and provisions by deciding legal disputes by sitting as a “great white judge” for villages along the way! Who’da thought…?

She became the first woman writer for the New Yorker magazine, and continued to write well into her 80’s.

She spent some of WWII in Shanghai and Hong Kong, basically living by her wits. (Would’ve scared the wits outta me!). The title of the book, “Nobody Said Not to Go” refers to her trip to Nanking at a time when it was being ravaged savagely by the Japanese—no place to be at the time!

Her life includes meeting with many, many famous people.
I could go on and on. Her exploits border on the unbelievable, but Cuthbertson writes well, holds attention and convinces that his research has proven out the remarkable tales of Emily Hahn.

I’ve purchased several copies of this book to hand to young women at graduation. I want them to grasp just a scintilla of Emily’s determination that nothing could stand in the way of her dreams and ambition—not even her gender!! C

Friday, October 30, 2009

Da Chen. A True Story of Growing Up in China...Remarkable!!

Author Da Chen is one remarkable person. He was born and raised in rural China of a family who suffered intense persecution during the “Cultural Wars.” His two-volume memoir spins a story that fascinates the reader and educates those (me!) who have grown up in the coziness of America to the horrors of that time for the Chinese.

Da’s childhood story in Colors of the Mountain, takes us through the hardships of his family’s persecution, which devolves eventually into this child—showing maturity far and away beyond his years—coming to grips with the fact that his future is up to him, alone. His family is supportive, but all they can give is love and moral support. You watch on the pages as this child turns his eyes on his future and takes charge. The pay off for his hard work was tremendous: Da ended up graduating from Columbia Law School and achieving success that he had no right to expect, given his beginnings.

This book was a stunner for me. It, very deservedly, went on to become a New York Times Bestseller. If you have missed Da Chen, don’t put off reading him.

There is a toned-down children’s version of Colors of the Mountain(which contains strong language and circumstance), called China’s Son, which is designed to impart the powerful lessons of Colors of the Mountain to children.

Sounds of the River picks up where Colors leaves off, continuing with Da’s trek through life. These books, with their roots in China, are really just another telling of the great American success story of triumph gained through grit and perseverance. I cannot recommend these books highly enough. C

Sams, Ferrol. A Great Southern Author--Don't Miss Him!

Yes, I know, I am a Southerner, born and bred, but I’m still entitled to my opinion: The American South is full of charm and, well, quintessential “Americanism.” I love, love it. If I had not been born here, I’d choose to be here. Enough about that…let’s talk about Southern literature which springs from this Southern character.

When you think of Southern lit, you might think of some greats: William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams (New Orleans), Eudora Welty, Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor, Mark Twain…need I go on? What can I say? The South just spins good yarns.

But one Southern great who may have escaped your attention is Ferrol Sams, a truly-gifted physician-turned-writer from Georgia. His trilogy which chronicles the childhood-through-adulthood of Porter Osborne, Jr. (“Sambo”) is one of my favorites. Sams draws heavily on his own childhood and family background in Georgia. So many of his stories evoke my own memories of my Uncles “Chet” and “Mac” sitting around at family dinners, telling some of the same type stories.

Sambo’s family stories will make you turn page-after-page and draw you into this depression-era rural Georgia life. I promise you that these books will not disappoint; instead, they will, by turns, make you laugh out loud or grow quiet with thought. They are some of my favorites.

If you can, start this reading with Run With the Horsemen. It is the first in Sam’s trilogy, and introduces you to Sambo and his family. Follow with The Whisper of the River, which takes you with Sambo into college. Finally, you won’t want to stop until you have read When All the World Was Young, in which Sambo struggles through medical school and into the travails of World War II.

If you’re looking for wonderful writing, an entrapment of story, and a look into American “Southernism,” I can’t think of any books which top these! They are great literature and great “reads.” C