GRANT was called "The Greatest Hero" by Walt Whitman.
In this time of California fires, the Coronavirus quarantine and Trump, I'm looking forGRANT was called "The Greatest Hero" by Walt Whitman.
In this time of California fires, the Coronavirus quarantine and Trump, I'm looking for revelation. My son, Chris, offered to lend me his 1,074-page biography of our 18th President, Ulysses S. Grant, written by Ron Chernow, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Hamilton and Washington.
I'm no further than the very first page and yet I'm inspired, changing! I'm in time past, another era, experiencing a vastly different life, fascinating and yet familiar, immersed in a historical figure I grew up with in school, sort of,—someone, strangely enough, I can identify with. Someone I wish I knew.
Historical textbooks have portrayed Ulysses S. Grant's terms in office as marked by rampant corruption presided over by a president who spoke only on occasion, had an alcohol problem, little charisma, and was simple-mindedly loyal to duplicitous "friends" in politics. Reading GRANT however, I discover a singular, sensitive man born in the Midwest of pioneer stock, the "son of an incorruptible small-town braggart" and a silent, beloved mother, an expert horseman, a failure at business while brilliant at military maneuvers, who resigned from the army in disgrace. A foe of slavery.
The very first sentence introduces me a Grant who has just left the office of the Presidency. It seems Ex-President Grant is unlike so many other presidents who rushed to publish their memoirs as soon as they departed the White House. No, two-time President Ulysses S. Grant, High Military Commander of the Union Army, who defeated the renown Confederate General Robert E Lee to win the Civil War for Abraham Lincoln, "refused to trumpet his accomplishments in print" and was, in fact, too modest and unpretentious. As Chernow describes it, Grant was a hero in spite of himself. He hated boasting about himself and his wartime accomplishments.
In the middle paragraph, Chernow fast-forwards to 1883 in post-Civil War New York City, where Grant, no longer president, has a crippling accident getting out of a taxi on a snowy night and ends up being a lifelong invalid with "excruciating pain" and the "agonizing onset of pleurisy coupled with severe rheumatism."
And still on Page 1, Chernow hints at the financial success Grant longed for finally being realized at the end of his life. Ex-president Grant has partnered with a young brash swindler, Ferdinand Ward, and imagines himself a millionaire who will be able to at last provide support for Julia after he's gone. But then . . .and then . . .while. . .after.
Deep into it now, I experience a small, unassuming man who never wanted to go to West Point, who could fall asleep in the middle of a battle and wake up refreshed, and who had the love and loyalty of the huge Union Army of Lincoln. Who Frederick Douglass called, "the protector of my race." Grant who sought freedom and justice for newly emancipated slaves both as Commander in Chief and later as President, fighting carpetbaggers and the newly formed Ku Klux Klan. There's been recent controversy around Julia who grew up in a slave state, in a family with slaves, and Grant keeping one slave, William, for a year, which led to Grant's statue being toppled in San Francisco. But, as I discover on p. 106, "when it came within his power, Grant . . . filed papers, to "hereby manumit, emancipate and set free said William from slavery forever."
It was revelatory and comfortingly satisfying to me to learn intimate details of this far-sighted, faithful, loving husband and father whose lifelong love affair was with his four children and his wife, Julia, a fascinating, vivacious woman in her own right, who flourished even at the very end of what became his torturous life.
GRANT, a cliff hanger. And it all happens in fascinating detail, written in pristine language. Somehow it became my life too, embodying my wish for a real president. Now. For the time being, I'll settle in with Ron Chernow's GRANT, imagining the man behind the book. And I'll vote for the next president on November 3rd. So much for wishing.
When I picked up Enemy Women, I imagined the intriguing title to be a metaphor that might describe any era, including my own, the twenty-firstWhen I picked up Enemy Women, I imagined the intriguing title to be a metaphor that might describe any era, including my own, the twenty-first century. Looking more closely at the cover, I saw a photo of a woman on a horse photographed from behind, her long black hair flying one direction while the horse, ears pricking, leaned in the other. A Native American story? A fantasy adventure? No, these “enemy women” I found out were mainly white and poor, living in the southeastern Ozarks of Missouri during the American Civil War.
I couldn't put the book down, mainly because of Adele Colley, eighteen years old, first person narrator. Adele speaks her mind, is eager to know her future. She shuns domesticity, knows she’ll likely be imprisoned by marriage, and worried it might be to the wrong man. Adele’s free spirit, her bravery, her independent, tomboy behavior and her unique dreams hooked me. I too have been entranced by the silence of early morning, “a coin to be spent very carefully.”
In the first pages, Adele’s father gives her a dun horse she names Whiskey, of mixed straw color, grey and gold with black legs, tail and mane. Whiskey is Adele’s best friend, her only companion. Her brother covets the horse and so does the Union Militia, made up of dubious characters from the Missouri waterfront who joined up "for a keg of whiskey and five dollars a month" and totally outnumber the retreating Confederate soldiers.
Adele’s mother died of the fever five years before and her brother, with his withered arm, has fled to the hills to avoid being arrested and shot (the Militia practice being to arrest Southern men “weeds in the garden of humanity” and punish anyone with Southern sympathies).
Even though the Colley’s are officially “non-partisan”, Adele (and her two little sisters) watch as her father, a justice of the peace, is arrested by the Militia. Adele’s father tells her to flee with her sisters to a distant relative. The Militia then sets their house on fire, burning everything, even food and valuables, and beat her father up before taking him away along with Whiskey, who looks back at her as he is led away.
A driving rain saves Adele, her sisters and her father’s house. She leads her sisters away, walking by graveyards where Confederate and Union soldiers are buried together. Looking to find her horse, her own journey has just begun and so has the reader's.
The author, Paulette Jiles, prefaces each chapter of Adele’s story with factual, primary source documents from the Civil War era, magnifying the power and horror of this reader's experience. For example, a few hours before being hanged in a St. Louis prison, Asa Ladd, “prisoner of war” and Confederate soldier, writes to his wife and children, “I want you to tell all my friends I have gone home to rest. I want you meet me in heaven.”
The author’s decision to not use direct quotes for her characters is also an unusual touch and stands in contrast to the meticulous, primary source quotations that precede each chapter.
Jiles’ careful, singular style of writing seduces the reader along with Adele into the hills of the Ozarks, following the flow of the rivers, the magnificent, overwhelming wilderness of the mountains where only the women and children are left.
Reading Enemy Women, I experienced every woman's grief during the American Civil War in present time, right now, not a just a subject of history in our country’s past of injustice, slavery, and wealthy “Gone with the Wind” white column mansions of the deep South. I saw familiar ghosts of "enemy" women, which could have been my ancestors in a new, compassionate light. I can thank the author for that....more
Blasphemy is a brilliant book of stories exposing the allure and cheap hypocrisy of our contemporary American culture. Its no accident this book wasBlasphemy is a brilliant book of stories exposing the allure and cheap hypocrisy of our contemporary American culture. It’s no accident this book was written by a Native American writer.
Warning: National Book Award winner Sherman Alexie’s newest collection of short stories contains blasphemy. Each of these thirty-one stories (sixteen brand new) may include scenes, characters or language that will make you cringe. You might find something in each that is shocking, sacrilegious, irreverent, profane, or tainted. You may see these stories as an affront, making you feel small and downright disgusted with your unavoidably slick, techno-babbling American life. Like the homeless you pass on the street, you probably don’t want to be close to them for long.
Varying from two pages in “Fame” to 58 pages in “Search Engine”, this disparity in length is sort of shocking too, an underhanded insult to the normal, professional (acceptable) book look. But that’s a minor flaw compared to the virulent content. For example, in “Fame”, a video goes viral and is seen by three million people. The video shows a lion in the zoo trying to eat a small girl through observation glass. The girl’s mother is laughing hysterically as she takes the video and so is the crowd at the zoo as well as three million people online.
The unnamed narrator, however, isn’t laughing. He is disgusted as he watches the mother take the video, feeling the indecency the lion feels, this King of the Beasts trapped behind observation glass, reduced to few-seconds-long media. The narrator has come to the zoo to impress his new girlfriend who works part-time (aptly at the primate section) making and selling those crude, throwaway balloon animals no one with any taste would ever buy. These slippery cartoon balloon animals, bad jokes even as toys, are signposts of corruption everywhere, like the video, the lion, and the mother.
I wonder what the little girl is feeling while her mother is laughing?
So what happens to our narrator and his girlfriend? It’s only their third date and he’s eager to have his way with her — but I won’t be a spoiler and reveal what happens. Let’s just say he sees the lion in himself. “I wasn’t angry. I was lonely. I was bored. And I half-remembered a time when I had been feared.”
Of course I felt close to the narrator and the lion. Like many of the other characters in Blasphemy, they could have been my relatives, though not necessarily ones I’d want to visit. And I'm not Native American.
There’s way too much ugly truth in these stories, too much humanity that’s been stamped on, disregarded, contaminated, violated by everyone including, and especially, by the characters themselves.
The painful irony, the heart of the blasphemy, lies in a pathetic hope that remains despite all. As the narrator says at the end of “Fame”, “If somebody had filmed me and posted it online then I would have become that guy with the teeth. I would have become a star.”
Isn't that what we all want—to be a star? You have to read it. ...more