Both shocking and encouraging of sympathy, The Angel Makers is a haunting novel that will slyly seduce you.
Taking place in an isolated village in HungBoth shocking and encouraging of sympathy, The Angel Makers is a haunting novel that will slyly seduce you.
Taking place in an isolated village in Hungary, the story revolves around Sari Arany, first as a young girl, then as a woman, and her place in village life. Her father is the village medicine man and seer; her only friend is the feared village midwife and herbal woman. Before her father dies, he arranges (with her permission) for Sari's engagement to Ferenc, the son of the wealthiest family in the village. It is a surprise to most, for because her mother died soon after her birth, Sari is thought to be unlucky and treated with scorn and suspicion by the villagers. It doesn't help that Sari is peculiar - beautiful, piercing eyes, more learned than most women, and surprisingly forthright with her speech and actions. Despite this, it is seen to be a good match, and when her father dies sooner than expected, Ferenc assumes they will marry immediately instead of waiting for Sari's 18th birthday. Yet Sari stands firm, and instead chooses to live with Judith, the herbal woman, to learn about being a midwife prior to marriage.
But soon the war comes to Hungary, and the men must go off to fight. Suddenly, the women of the village find themselves living in a strange new world where they don't worry about when food is on the table, where they have time to make new friends, where they begin to feel more free in thought and action - no longer worried about a harsh rebuke from a husband or father. When a POW camp sets up nearby, they also feel free enough to get jobs (and lovers) at the camp. Sari slowly becomes more accepted in the village, making a few particular friends, learning more about herbal medicine and midwifery, occasionally receiving letters from Ferenc about his dreams of home.
Then the war ends. The village men begin to return. The POWs leave. And the women are no longer so free as they once were. Sari's friend, Anna, again begins to creep around the village trying to hide the fresh bruises that are a marker of her husband's homecoming. But change did happen in the women. And they are not as willing to lie down and take the men's actions and decisions as they once were. It is at this point that they begin to rely on Sari and Judith's herbal knowledge for getting rid of those pesky problems - the men who maybe should not have returned home from the war.
The best part? This is based on a true story. As the author writes, "The novel details a peculiar kind of madness that gripped the women in a small, isolated village over a period of around ten years, and writing the novel was my attempt to try and understand what circumstances might have brought it about, as well as what may have been going on in the heads of the women in question." This is a fascinating look at how far some women will go to assert their freedom. ...more
This book is a wonderful story about the art form of violin making. Though the writing itself often seems like it has two authors - the lyrical dreameThis book is a wonderful story about the art form of violin making. Though the writing itself often seems like it has two authors - the lyrical dreamer sometimes gets overwritten by the research historian - the story is a delightful mix of an ancient craft practiced in a modern era. If you have an ounce of musical interest, this book is a fascinating read....more
This was the most fascinating book I've read in a long time. It combines the very best of good reporting, action-adventure novel, history, anthropologThis was the most fascinating book I've read in a long time. It combines the very best of good reporting, action-adventure novel, history, anthropology, and biography. David Grann seamlessly weaves together his modern-day search for what happened to the lost explorer Percy Fawcett, and Fawcett's own quest for a city he labeled only as "Z", an El Dorado-like city supposed to exist deep within the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.
Colonel Percival Harrison Fawcett was a British explorer in the late 1800s, early 1900s who mapped great portions of South America. With the constitution of an ox, he survived extreme conditions of the worst kind in jungles where it seemed every aspect of the environment was trying to kill you. Unlike most other explorers, Fawcett advocated peaceful interactions with the Native tribes living in the jungles, and survived many tense situations. As he got older, Fawcett became obsessed with the idea of a lost village deep within the Amazon rainforest, one filled with gold and other riches. He gathered Native stories, read the accounts of other explorers, and kept his own journals chronicling his theories and his searches for this city he called "Z". As a member of the Royal Geographic Society, Fawcett expected them to fund his expeditions. Unfortunately, they did not, so Fawcett and his family spent many years in poverty, as Fawcett was equally unable to earn money as he was unable to stop going into the South American wilderness. In 1925, having finally secured enough money for another expedition, Fawcett departed with his son Jack, and Jack's friend Raleigh Rimell, into the Amazon in an area close to the region of Mato Grosso. [This is probably why I find this so fascinating, as my parents spent a year or more living with the Bororo Indians in that same region in the 80s before I was born.] The three explorers were never heard from again.
David Grann admits he is one of the least likely people to go exploring in such conditions. Without even a boyscout background, he nonetheless gathers equipment, Fawcett's research, and contacts people in Brazil who may help him find out what happened to Fawcett. Grann is hardly the first to try this; reportedly over 100 people have died during various rescue, information-gathering, and other attempts to enter the Amazon specifically looking for Fawcett and his lost party.
Grann, with a reporter's instinct for hunting out a story, manages to find a guide, then an interpreter, and eventually speaks with the Kalapalo tribe, who may have been the last tribe to see Fawcett and his group alive. What's even more incredible is that archaeologist Michael Heckenberger was living with the Kalapalo when Grann arrives. Heckenberger, and other archaeologists, may have recently discovered the remains of Fawcett's "Z".
Due to the hot and humid conditions of the Amazon, unlike a stone-based city such as Machu Picchu, any civilization built with jungle materials (wood, vines, etc.) would have rotted away and been swallowed by the jungle within 10 years of desertion. Due to the diseases brought by the first early explorers, hundreds of thousands of Native populations were wiped out, ravaged by diseases their immune systems had no experience with, before the next group of explorers came by. It could be that tragedies of this atrocious nature, combined with the accelerated breakdown of the natural materials used to build the great cities, caused the disbelief of early explorer accounts that detail great, prosperous cities with hundreds of people living in them. By the time a second wave of exploration began, the Native peoples, having been decimated to only a few hundred people, were living in small bands and villages, rather than in large cities. Archaeologists such as Michael Heckenberger are just beginning to map out and put together diagrams of huge, complicated cities, entire civilizations, that existed, often with technology and scientific knowledge that was far superior to that being used in the Western cities at that time.
A true adventure story, I was racing through the last few chapters, marveling at how Fawcett's story and Grann's story were coming together in a climactic ending. We're still learning so much about ancient civilizations thanks to modern technology, there was really no way Fawcett would have found his lost city of "Z". Yet, that doesn't mean it didn't exist.
Also, stay tuned for the 2012 movie version of this story that's reputed to star Brad Pitt. ...more