Philomena by Kate Seredy

Philomena is sturdy young country girl who lives with her grandmother in a village in the Czech Republic sometime in the early twentieth century. After her Babushka’s death, Philomena goes to the city of Prague to learn to be a servant and to find her Aunt Liska who deserted the family many years ago.

The story is very Catholic, and Philomena receives messages via circumstances that she believes are from the sainted Babushka. This aspect of the story didn’t bother me even though I don’t believe in praying to or receiving guidance from the dead. Philomena does believe that her grandmother is guiding her and caring for her from beyond the grave, and the device creates a gentle logic and organization to Philomena’s journey to the city and her growth from an innocent little girl to a self-sufficient and mature young lady.

“Everybody else in the village went to church every Sunday. First they listened to Father Matthias. Father Matthias was a wise priest who knew all about the weather, the sheep, and the chickens. He told the men of the village when to plant potatoes and corn. He told them what to do when animals got sick. He knew about God and Heaven, of course, but he also knew that people must have enough to eat to be happy, and therefore good, so he taught them to be good farmers. Good farmers have so much to do that there simply isn’t enough time left over for them to do anything that would make God angry with them! The good priest told them about Heaven, to be sure, but he just took it for granted that all his people would go there. He didn’t have to bother to tell them about the other place. He was a very wise man.”

While Father Matthias’ teaching or lack thereof doesn’t exactly fit with my own reading of the Bible and its soteriology, it is refreshing to read about such a good and down-to-earth priest.

Kate Seredy (pronounced SHARE-edy) was born in 1899 in Budapest, Hungary, and she grew up as an only child in the home of her teacher father. After World War II, Ms. Seredy emigrated to the United States and became an illustrator, first of cards and book covers and other low-paying artistic endeavors, then textbooks and books by other authors. Eventually, Ms. Seredy began to write and illustrate her own stories, mostly set in Central Europe, Hungary and this one in Czechoslovakia. The White Stag, based on Hungarian mythology and folklore and not her best book in my opinion, won the Newbery Medal in 1937. Philomena was published in 1955 after several other books, either written or illustrated or both by the talented Ms. Seredy, had won Newbery awards or honors.

Up the Trail from Texas by J. Frank Dobie

Texas Tuesday.

This book, published in 1955, is one of the Landmark History series from Random House. The publisher had a policy of hiring the best writers, award winning authors and experts in history and in particular historical eras and events, to write these books, and it shows. J. Frank Dobie was a journalist and a rancher and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin for many years. He was instrumental in saving the Texas Longhorn from extinction. He wrote over twenty books about the history, folklore, and traditions of Texas. If anyone was qualified to write a Landmark history book about the history of the cattle, cowboys, and trail drives of Texas, it was Mr. Dobie.

And Up the Trail from Texas is certainly a well-written, exciting nonfiction compilation of the stories of various cowmen, trail bosses, and cowboys that Mr. Dobie interviewed personally, along with information about the real life of a trail driving cowboy and the logistics and work of a trail drive from Texas to the northern cattle markets in Kansas or Nebraska or Montana. Read about drouths, blizzards, lightning, and floods, encounters with the Comanche and other Indians, and about the jobs the cowboys were expected to perform. Dobie’s writing especially shine when he is recounting the stories that the cowmen told him, many of them recalling in old age their youthful exploits and adventures on the cattle trail.

I remember when I was a kid of a girl watching Clint Eastwood as drover Rowdy Yates in the early 1960’s TV series, Rawhide. I think the writers of Rawhide must have read Mr. Dobie’s books, especially this one. If I were teaching a unit on the cowboys and trail drives of the 1860’s, I’d read a couple chapters of Up the Trail from Texas to my students each day until we finished the book, and then I’d let them watch a few episodes of Rawhide.

Keep movin’, movin’, movin’,
Though they’re disapprovin’,
Keep them dogies movin’, rawhide.
Don’t try to understand ’em,
Just rope ’em, throw, and brand ’em.
Soon we’ll be livin’ high and wide.
My heart’s calculatin’,
My true love will be waitin’,
Be waitin’ at the end of my ride.
Move ’em on, head ’em up,
Head ’em up, move ’em on,
Move ’em on, head ’em up, rawhide!
Head ’em out, ride ’em in,
Ride ’em in, let ’em out,
Cut ’em out, ride ’em in, rawhide!

At the end of each episode, trail boss Gil Favor would call out, “Head’em up! Move’em out!”

The Hill of the Red Fox by Allan Campbell McLean

Spies. Lies. Danger.

That’s the subtitle teaser on the cover of my copy of The Hill of the Red Fox, a Scottish book, first published in 1955, but now available (2015) in a new paperback edition from Floris Books, in the series Kelpies Classics.

“The Kelpies are a highly-respected and much-loved range of children’s novels set in Scotland and suitable for 8 to 12 year olds. The Kelpies range includes classic children’s novels by Kathleen Fidler and award-winning contemporary children’s fiction by Lari Don.” from the website for Kelpies.

I think these books are available in the U.S. from:

Steiner Books Inc
c/o Books International
22883 Quicksilver Drive
Dulles, VA 20166
Telephone: 1-800-856 8664
service@steinerbooks.org

Maybe The Hill of the Red Fox is available from other sources, too. (Yes, click on the book cover picture for a link to Amazon.) I got my copy as an ARC for possible review.

And I did like the novel. It’s a Cold War spy novel. Thirteen year old Alisdair is of Scottish descent, but he’s grown up in London. He knows very little about actual life in rural Scotland, but he is unexpectedly allowed by his mother (father is dead) to go to visit an old friend of his father on the Isle of Skye. On his way to the Isle, a stranger gives Alisdair a mysterious message. Soon Alisdair is caught up in an old family feud and in a web of danger and espionage that may claim his very life.

The 1950’s setting is key to my enjoyment of this book. Alistair is given the privilege of traveling to the Islae of Skye alone on a train from London, and although his mother is somewhat concerned about him, she gives him lots of instructions and lets him go. Then, the events of the story conspire to mature Alisdair even more, and although he is a typical thirteen year old who makes some horrifically dangerous but well-meaning decisions, the author doesn’t tidy thing up for Alisdair. Events play out just as one would expect them to with the impetus of such risky and immature decisions, and Alisdair learns what it means to be a real man in a dangerous and risky world.

The spy/espionage part of the plot is a little hokey, but it’s not too bad. And I can’t believe that Alisdair doesn’t feel a wee bit of guilt for his part in how things turn out in the end. The descriptions of Scotland and of Scottish customs and characters such as the “ceilidh” (house party) and the “cailleach” (old woman with second sight) are fascinating and fit right into the story. The descriptions of the landscape and the sprinkling of Gaelic words and phrases through the book are fun, too.

If you want to read a book set in nearly modern day Scotland, and you like spy stories, I would recommend this one. It’s somewhat heart-rending, but really good.

Some other Kelpies I’d like to read someday:

The Blitz Next Door by Cathy Forde. “Pete’s new house in Clydebank near Glasgow would be fine if it wasn’t for the girl next door crying all the time. Except, there is no house next door. A vivid adventure story based on the Clydebank Blitz of 1941.”
The Nowhere Emporium by Ross MacKenzie. “When the mysterious Nowhere Emporium arrives in Glasgow, orphan Daniel gets drawn into its magical world.”
Pyrate’s Boy by E.B. Colin. “Silas, pyrate’s boy on the pirate ship Tenacity, has adventures from the West Indies to the west coast of Scotland.”
The Sign of the Black Dagger by Joan Lingard. “Four children, two hundred years apart, must uncover the secret of the Black Dagger in this fast-paced mystery by award-winning author Joan Lingard. Set in and around Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.”
The Accidental Time Traveller by Janis Mackay. “Saul has to work out time travel to return Agatha Black to 1812.”

1955: Books and Literature

A Fable by William Faulkner wins the National Book Award and also the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Halldor Laxness(?) wins the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Best-selling fiction book of 1955: Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk. I’ve only read Wouk’s Caine Mutiny and his two WW II novels, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance.

Published in 1955:
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is published in Paris. Nabokov’s controversial novel doesn’t make it to the U.S. until 1958.

Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie. I like the way there was usually at least one Christie novel published every year, beginning in 1920 with The Mysterious Affair at Styles and ending in 1976 with her last Miss Marple tale, Sleeping Murder. One could always ask for the latest Agatha Christie mystery for Christmas.

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. I wrote here about the family trauma we experienced when we watched the movie based on this book several years ago.

Tunnel in the Sky by Robert Heinlein. Did anyone else read this and other science fiction/space travel books by Heinlein when you were a teenager? I remember them as good clean fun, but am I remembering correctly? And would they be terribly dated nowadays?

Andersonville by Mackinlay Kantor. Semicolon review here.

The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis. There’s always a bit of a kerfuffle about whether to read this one first since it tells about the creation of Narnia. I says read the Narnia books in publication order, beginning with the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. By the time you read the first five books, you’ll want to know where Narnia came from and how it all began.

The Mouse That Roared by Leonard Wibberley. Reviewed at Why Homeschool. I read this book a long time ago, too, and I remember thinking it was hilariously funny.

Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo. Classic Mexican literature of the twentieth century. Pedro Paramo is a short book, but rather confusing for someone who’s reading in a second, acquired language, as I was when I read this one back in college. I wonder if I could still read anything half this complicated in Spanish?

The Return of the King by JRR Tolkien. Even as a teenager, I saw the Christian echoes in this book that never really mentions God or Christianity. Everyone should read, listen to, or at least watch the movie version of The Lord of the Rings. Everyone.

How many of the books published in 1955 have you read or at least encountered? Is there anything on that list I shouldn’t miss?

1955: Events and Inventions

January, 1955. The Chinese Communist People’s Liberation Army seizes the Yijiangshan Islands from the Republic of China (Taiwan). The United States Congress authorizes President Dwight D. Eisenhower to use force to protect Taiwan from the People’s Republic of China.

January 22, 1955. The Pentagon announces a plan to develop ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) armed with nuclear weapons.

February 19, 1955. The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) is formed. SEATO’s members include Australia, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

'Original July 17, 1955 Disneyland Parking Pass on display at the Walt Disney Archives' photo (c) 2011, Loren Javier - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/February, 1955. Nikita Krushchev becomes the new leader of the Soviet Union, replacing former premier Georgi Malenkov.

May 14, 1955. Eight Communist Eastern European countries, including the Soviet Union, sign a mutual defence treaty in Warsaw, Poland, called the Warsaw Pact. The nations, in addition to the Soviets, are Poland, Bulgaria, Albania, East Germany, Rumania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.

July 18, 1955. Walt Disney opens his new amusement park, Disneyland, at Anaheim near Los Angeles, California.

July 18-23, 1955. The first Geneva Summit meeting between the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and France is held in Switzerland.

September, 1955. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, President Juan Peron is overthrown and General Eduardo Lonardi becomes provisional president.

'nuage ou soucoupe ?' photo (c) 2008, Christophe Delaere - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/October 25, 1955. The U.S. Air Force concludes an eight year investigation of the phenomenon of “flying saucers” and UFO’s and concludes that alien spacecraft do not exist. Secretary of the Air Force Donald Quarles: “On the basis of this study, we believe that no objects such as those popularly described as flying saucers have overflown the United States. I feel certain that even the Unknown 3% could have been explained as conventional phenomena or illusions if more complete observational data had been obtained.”

November 1, 1955. The Vietnam War begins between the South Vietnamese Army and the North Vietnamese Army with their allies in the south, the Viet Cong. Ngo Dinh Diem has declared himself president of South Vietnam and seeks to unify the country under his rule. Communists in the south are imprisoned or killed by Diem’s government. North Vietnam is willing to hold democratic elections to unify the country because the communists under Ho Chi Minh are assured of winning any election. Diem seeks to eliminate communism in the south.

Children’s nonfiction set in 1955:
Back of the Bus by Aaron Reynolds. Reviewed at True Tales and a Cherry on Top.
Rosa’s Bus by Jo Kittinger. Reviewed at Booktalking with Anastasia Suen.

1955: Arts and Entertainment

Tennesse Ernie Ford has a huge hit with the song 16 Tons:

Tennessee Ernie Ford’s version was released on October 17th 1955. Nine days later, it had sold 400,000 copies. By November 10th, it had sold another 600,000 to become the fastest-selling million-seller in pop history, a record it retains to this day. By December 15th, it had sold two million. It was Number One for seven weeks before being displaced by Dean Martin’s “Memories Are Made Of This”. Who’d have thought there was so much gravy in a singalong about the unrelenting grinding misery of coal mining?

When something’s that big a hit, it’s easy to be dismissive, but, in fact, it’s very deftly done. There’s a whole world captured in that line about owing your soul to the company store. In many mining communities, workers lived in company-owned housing, the cost of which was docked from their wages, and what was left was paid in “scrip” – that’s to say, company-issued tokens or vouchers that could only be redeemed for goods at the company store. To the unions who fought and eventually defeated the system, it was a form of bondage in which it was impossible for workers to amass any cash savings: there was no future except the next paycheck to be spent on next week’s over-priced necessities at the company store. ~Mark Steyn Online

Marty

Someone on a blog somewhere suggested the movie Marty, and we borrowed it from Blockbuster and watched it last Friday afternoon. It’s a light, sort of romantic, movie, perfect for Valentine’s Day, but at the same time the themes and some of the scenes are jarringly tragic and almost painful to watch.

Marty was made back in 1955, and it won four Oscars that year, including Best Picture. Ernest Borgnine (Oscar for Best Actor) stars as a 35 year old Italian butcher who’s still not married in spite of the fact that all his younger brothers and sisters have already tied the knot. His very Italian mother and all of his customers and friends wonder, loudly and persistently, why Marty doesn’t have a girl. In fact, they all say, with their thick Italian accents, “Marty, you should be ‘shamed of yourself. Why aren’t you married yet?”

Marty, however, isn’t married for the very good reason that he hasn’t found a girl who’s interested. “Ma,” he says, “sooner or later, there comes a point in a man’s life when he’s gotta face some facts. And one fact I gotta face is that, whatever it is that women like, I ain’t got it.”

Marty also calls himself “a fat, ugly man,” and it’s obvious from the beginning of the movie that Marty is a man whose self-esteem has suffered a series of blows from heartless girls and interfering friends and family members. His mother, essentially good-hearted but worried about her son and his future, convinces Marty to make one more trip to the Stardust Ballroom in hopes of meeting a girl. And, wonder of wonders, he does! Unfortunately, for Marty and for his girl Clara, everyone in Marty’s life, including Marty himself, is more used to Marty the Lonely Bachelor, than Marty in Love. Change is threatening, and Marty’s best friend is jealous of the time Marty spends with Clara. His mother, who so much wanted him to marry and have a family, is now afraid that a daughter-in-law might push her out into the cold. (Marty lives with his mother in an old 40’s style house, with a porch!, in New York City.)

Will Marty call Clara for another date as he promised he would? Will he continue to see Clara even though his friends and family disapprove? Or will he listen to those bad advisors and end up hanging out with the guys, asking that eternal question: “Whatd’ya wanna do tonight?” “I dunno. Whatd’you feel like doin’?”

This movie was such a challenge to Hollywood stereotypes: a movie about a nearly middle-aged butcher and an awkward chemistry teacher. And the “ugly ducklings” never turn into swans, either. They find a meaningful relationship without becoming something other than what they are. The leading man in this movie isn’t tall, dark, or handsome, nor is he witty, suave or debonaire. The girl (Betsy Blair) isn’t such a “dog” as some in the movie call her, but she is sweet and shy and rather unassuming. My urchins, who hate Napoleon Dynamite, will cringe to hear me say so, but the movie reminded me of a kinder, gentler Napoleon Dynamite.

It’s good to see a movie in which Hollywood celebrates ordinary, average guys and gals who live simple lives and still want love and marriage and all that implies.

The story and the screenplay for Marty were written by playwright Paddy Chayefsky, who, according to Wikipedia, has been compared to Arthur Miller. I was going to write that Marty also reminded me a bit of Miller’s salesman, Willy Loman, but again much kinder and gentler and much less tragic than Mr. Loman. I thought this story about Mr. Chayefsky, also from Wikipedia, showed a a good picture of his character:

He is known for his comments during the 1978 Oscar telecast after Vanessa Redgrave made a controversial speech denouncing Zionism while accepting her award for Best Supporting Actress in Julia. Chayefsky made a comment during the program immediately after hers stating that he was upset by her using the event to make an irrelevant political viewpoint during a film award program. He said, “I would like to suggest to Miss Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation and a simple ‘Thank you’ would have sufficed.” He received thunderous applause for his riposte to Redgrave.

Marty was a good movie, and I really liked the porch.