Thursday, July 17, 2008

Book Review: Chesapeake by James A. Michener

I have (finally) finished reading this great book. I started it 9 long months ago. To give you a brief history... last year for Olive's 1st birthday, we had a trip to Ocean City, MD with the grandparents and on the way there, we crossed the Chesapeake Bay. My dad recalled a great book he had read many years ago and suggested I read it. In October, I went home to Florida and he had a copy waiting for me. Hence, I started reading this epic novel.
I have never read anything else by Michener but know he is a renowned author with lots of great works. What makes them so interesting is that while they are technically fiction books, the historical details are accurate and he does immense research before writing each book. When I read this book, I couldn't stop marveling at how much time it must have taken to research all this.
This story drafts the history of the Chesapeake region all the way from the early Native Americans in the 1500s to recent times (late 1970s, when the book was written). It essentially follows a few main families through the centuries and the changes in the region. It's a very long book (1000 pages) but shouldn't have taken me so long to read. Don't misunderstand though - it is not because I didn't like it - I really did. In fact, as I read the last few pages today, I realized that I will be sorry to say goodbye to these families.

I learned so much about the rich history of this area and made me yearn for the rugged landscape of the place where I grew up - where lots of land is still "wild" and uninhabited by humans. It made me appreciate nature and the delicate balance of it. It also revamped an interest in history and in particular in the period of time around the Civil War (which made the trip to Harpers Ferry, WV last weekend even that more interesting to me). In Chesapeake, there are several chapters that take place in and around the Civil War era, both from the perspective of slaveowners and of slaves. It actually renewed in me that vicious anger I feel towards white Americans of the time - how could anyone think that slavery was acceptable?? And how terribly tragic that these poor men and women and even children were taken from their homes in Africa and brought here so lazy people didn't have to do the hard work? And then they had no options for their lives - their families were often ripped apart, they were sometimes subjected to inhumane conditions, and on top of all this, they didn't have a choice. I find this so sad that I am brought to tears. But that's for another post...
I thought this book was interesting and most people would probably get something from it. While I often didn't understand some of the language, the overall messages got through. If you have any interest in sailing or hunting (which I do not), this will be of even more interest (but still great even if you don't care about those things.)

If you have ever travelled to the region or plan to in the future, or just have an interest in reading something other than chick lit, pick this one up. You will have a renewed spirit and simplicity and you might even learn a little something too.
To order it, click here.

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