Friday, October 13, 2006

His Family - Winner, Novel/Fiction, 1918

His Family
by: Ernest Poole
Macmillan, 1916

"You will live on in our children's lives." - Judith Gale, His Family

His Family tells the story of Roger Gale and his struggle to really know and understand his three grown daughters after the passing of his wife. Before her death, she urged him to carefully remember all that the girls had done so that, "when you come after me, my dear, oh, how hungry I shall be for all you will tell me. For you will live on in our children's lives." This is the theme of the book as Roger tries desperately to keep up with his daughters and their families. Each of the daughters is strikingly different and each exemplifies a different stereotype of women in the years leading up to the "Roaring Twenties." Edith, the oldest, is the old fashioned mother and stay at home mom who strives diligently to have her children raised in a proper fashion. Her world revolves around her children. The middle child, Deborah, is the social reformer. She doesn't marry until she is older because she spends so much time working in the tenements in New York City and campaigning for women's suffrage. Laura is the youngest and is a perfect example of the early rise of the flapper. She lives the social life with no regard to the amount of money she is spending or to the feelings of her family around her.
This book is by far my favorite yet. My favorite period of history is the time from the end of the Civil War to right before World War II. It is fascinating to read this account of a family trying to move with the times at a very tumultuous time socially in American history. Some fight for the traditional values and some jump with all they have into a carefree life focused on 'self'. The book runs over into World War I and shows how a war in Europe affected Americans economically. The theme of family carrying on through generations and how generations affect each other is also fascinating. It is wonderful as Roger gradually realizes the importance of those who were before and the impact he will have on those after him.
The book is a very fast read. Many chapters end in the middle of a scene giving the reader the feeling that they must read on. By the end of the book you know the characters well and see their faults and strengths as Roger discovers them. It contains many good lessons for those of us today.

Monday, October 09, 2006

With Americans of Past and Present Days - Winner, Non-Fiction, 1917

With Americans of Past and Present Days
by: J.J. Jusserand
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916
New York:, 2000

With Americans of Past and Present Days is a fascinating book about American and French relationships from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War. Jusserand, a Frenchman himself, spends the main portion of the book discussing the Revolutionary War. The first section is about the French general Rochambeau. Rochambeau led the French troops who came to the aid of the Americans during the Revolution. The second section is about Major Pierre Charles L'Enfant who was chosen to plan the capitol city of the new nation. Because an existing city could not be agreed upon for the capitol of the United States, it was decided that a new city would be planned from scratch. L'Enfant, known for his grandiose plans and difficult disposition was chosen to plan the capitol city. The third section discusses George Washington and his relationship to the French. Although he never visited France himself, he remained quite close to many of the French officers who helped to fight for independence. The fourth section is a brief chapter on the French views of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. It makes clear that the French highly respected Lincoln for his desire to abolish slavery. The fifth section is an oddly placed chapter including the script of a speech where a medal was commissioned in 1906 commemorating the relationship between Benjamin Franklin and the French, to be given as a gift to France. The sixth section is an address delivered in the name of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, January 17, 1913 (given by the author?). It seemed out of place because it was about Horace Howard Furness (an American I have never heard of) who wrote much of the early commentary on Shakespeare. The only reason it is included is that he gave much credit to the French critics of Shakespeare. Apparently, up until this point, only English critics of Shakespeare had been considered credible. The final chapter is the manuscript of an address delivered before the American Society for the Judicial Settlement of International Disputes, December 17, 1910 discussing the attempts of several countries to join together to promote peace and disarmament. Included at the end of the chapter is an interesting note concerning the early stages of World War I in which Germany refused to disarm.
This book provides great insight into the United States' early relationships with France. It discusses the affect that the American Revolution had on the French Revolution and gives many interesting insights from a French point of view, something not usually mentioned in American History classes.
I think that reading the book online helped to keep it from seeming too disjointed. The last several chapters are particularly random, and it took a little while to figure out their relevance in the book. The author also assumed that the reader understands French, so many quotations are not translated into English. He also assumes that the reader knows who certain people are and mentions them without explaining their significance. I noticed that I sometimes had trouble telling where a direct quote ended and also that the author would switch between past and present tense and first and third person.
On the whole, the book was quite interesting. It brought forth some perspectives that I had never considered and was a pretty easy read. I think it would be especially helpful for someone researching French/American relationships throughout history.