Koethi Zan, a former entertainment lawyer and first-time novelist, gives us a ripped-from-the-headlines story of abducted young women held captive and tortured, some trafficked, some killed. The novel is very topical and, unfortunately, very realistic in its premise, and told from the point of view of an abductee who managed to escape ten years before. As the action opens, she learns that hiding in her apartment will not keep the world out – her tormentor is up for parole.
Unanswered questions, the investigative fumbling of the FBI, the search for the body of her close friend all push her to conquer her agoraphobia and post-traumatic stress symptoms and re-enter the world to do some of her own investigation.
She reunites with two of the other women who shared the cellar with her, all wounded and hostile to each other, and they embark on a quest to find further proof of evil doings that will ensure the kidnapper is locked up for eternity.
The chase is gripping and the reader is filled with a sense of dread every time they venture into a dark building – at night – or follow thuggish men – on backwoods roads – without a flashlight! Some of these scenes frankly stretch the reader’s credibility. I mean, c’mon, we wouldn’t attempt these things (but then again, we haven’t lived through their traumas!) Similar to our reactions to horror films, we’re often on the edge of our seats, ready to scream, “Look behind you! Don’t go down those stairs! Get out of that house – now!”
Zan flashes back and forth from the present to the captivity ten years before, giving us some indication of how the women were brought upstairs for torture sessions, how they turned against each other at times, how they reverted to animal self-preservation tactics.
She spares us all details of the actual torture, simply repeating that there was a lot of pain, they were starved and bruised, one was confined to a coffin-like box. Strangely enough, though the reader’s initial response is of deep relief at not suffering through the actual torture scenes with the victims, the ultimate effect of not revealing more details is that the torture becomes something theoretical. We are robbed of drama.
There are twists and turns in the plots, enough to make it interesting, and a last line to hint that maybe the main character is ready to start living the life she would have been living all along as a healthy 30 year old woman – that FBI guy is kinda cute!
This book is part of a new genre featuring young victimized heroines regaining their lives after years of untimely interruption by evil psychopaths – we wish it was not based on stories like that of Amanda Berry, Gina de Jesus and Michelle Knight, all rescued recently in Cleveland.
One of these books, Room by Emma Donoghue, concerns itself with a young girl and her son born in captivity and their eventual escape. Though it too spares the reader the gruesome details of sexual abuse, it is rich in detail about the survival techniques employed by the young mother, especially her enormous creativity in fashioning an almost-livable daily existence for her child.
She painstakingly portrays the long difficult road to some simulacrum of normalcy, particularly for a child who has never seen another human being other than his mother and never been outside the Room.
Psychologically, this plot rings more true to life than that of the hastily-recovered, uber-functioning heroine of The Never List. But, in any case, both novels focus our attention on “the evil that men [and women] do” and the tragic repercussions on the lives of young women.
On August 28, 1963 something truly amazing occurred: the birth of true Democracy came to our shores for the very first time. Martin Luther King, Jr. famous “I Have a Dream “ speech resonated throughout the land, and as his companion in the fight for Democracy, Ralph Abernathy wrote in his excellent memoir of the same name, “The Walls Came Tumbling Down.”
Although It wasn’t just King’s speech alone that caused the onrush of freedom for women, gays, the rights of the planet earth not to be destroyed by human greed, and often overlooked, the rights of freedom of movement for the elderly and folks who suffer from handicaps (those kneeling buses, indented sidewalks and accommodations on public transportation for wheelchairs we now take for granted in cites and towns across the nation, didn’t come into being until advocates of rights for freedom of movement started using the tactics of the Civil Rights Movement)-- it brilliantly summed up, for all to hear, just what an American Democracy should look like for the first time in our short history.
As William P. Jones In his book The March on Washington: Job, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights, Dr. King, the father of the Civil Rights Movement had many grandfathers and grandmothers, both black and white, and many greatgrandparents, for that matter.
One of the grandest grandfathers of all was the towering trade union leader A. Philip Randolph, who founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping car Porters and Maids, who first called for a march on Washington in 1941 to press for equal opportunity in employment and the armed forces.
Professor Jones, who teaches history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, first takes us through the volatile radical political of 30s. For reason unknown, the 60s always grabbed the headlines for American radicalism, but that decade pales in comparison beside the 30s, the decade Randolph earned his strips.
Because of the Great Depression, starting with the collapse of Wall Street in 1929, the fun years of the “roaring twenties,” with its blazing stock market, jazz and endless booze, dancing and sex, was over.
Now, outright Fascist, Communist, Socialist, Anarchist, Racist ruled the streets with rigid rules that must be followed. Meanwhile, the old establishment dug in, ready for a fight.
What I found most interesting about this decade, with its many problems, and so many politicizing, polarizing ideas, was that so many highly intelligent, educated people, black and white, most with advance degrees from major universities, decided to use that education and intelligence not to pursue personal wealth, but to try and bring about a better world with out the regimentation and violence.
Those that were successful, like Randolph, learned to take what they could, and two-step around all the rest of the hard-core Ism, and keep their eyes on what was truly important: turning America into a true democracy.
Professor Jones takes us on a historical journey that I have been down many times, as the history of the Civil Rights Movement slowly unfolds. What I like most about this narrative, which differ from many I have read, is the due he gives to A. Philip Randolph, and especially Bayard Rustin.
The importance of Rustin cannot be exaggerated or overstated. When he first met Dr. Martin Luther King, the young King was leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the first civil rights demonstration that gained national attention, due to a large measure of the increasing importance of television, and to the growing threat of unspeakable violence breaking out as blacks started arming themselves in light of the bombings and daily threats directed at them.
Even Dr. King, and Rev. Abernathy requested permits to carry pistols. “I will never forget those threatening telephone calls and letters of intimidation,” Ralph Abernathy wrote two years later.
Writes Jones, “The escalation of violence caught the attention of A. Philip Randolph…and soon after the bombings a small group of civil rights and labor leaders assembled to discuss the problem in New York City…Fearing that open warfare would bring a wave of repression far greater than they had seen already, Randolph and the others resolved to send Bayard Rustin to hold series of workshops on Gandhian nonviolence in Montgomery.
“Despite King’s emphasis on nonviolence and his familiarity with Gandhi, Rustin found that the minister had ‘very limited notions about how a nonviolent protest should be carried out.’ Writing about his experience years later, Rustin recalled, “I do not believe that one does honor to Dr. King by assuming that, somehow, he had been prepared for his job…The glorious thing is that he came to a profoundly deep understanding of nonviolence through the struggle itself, and through reading and discussions which he had in the process of carrying on the protest.””
In addition to introducing King to the leading black activist intellectual in America at the time, Randolph also offered him more down to earth help by putting him in touch with black union activists in Birmingham, who help raise funds to send to Montgomery.
I thought a great deal about Rustin sitting alone with King at his dinner table, late into the night, in a polarized southern city, with the very real threat of a bomb loudly bursting into their quiet space at any moment, instructing King in what Gandhi was trying to tell us about how nonviolence resistant weakens the oppressor until he realize that he has no moral grounds to stand on, for wrongs he is doing.
All of could think of what is happening in the Mideast as I write this. Where is a Rustin when we need one!
Randolph gambit paid off, as a brilliant Rustin made sure that King fully understood what it meant when he invoked the name of Gandhi.
One final point, and one that drives be crazy each time I read a book like this. Professor Jones makes the same historic mistake that I have trying to correct for decades: W.E.B. DuBois did not found the NAACP.
Mary White Overton did, and she is perhaps the greatest unsung heroine in American history. Don’t bother to look her up on Wikipedia, she does not have a page.
Here is the true story: The Springfield Race Riot of 1908 was a mass civil disturbance in Springfield, Illinois, sparked by the transfer of two African American prisoners out of the city jail by the county sheriff. This act enraged many white citizens, who responded by rioting in black neighborhoods, destroying and burning black-owned businesses and homes, and killing black citizens.
By the end of the riot, there were at least seven deaths and $200,000 in property damage. It was the only riot against blacks in United States history in which more white deaths (five) were recorded than black (two). The riot led to the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, an organization to work for civil rights, education and improving relations. Between blacks and whites.
Overton, a New Yorker, was appalled by the violence and destruction of property, no less in Lincoln’s hometown, so in 1909 she issue The Call to prominent religious and social leaders, including reaching out to Dr. DuBois, Harvard’s first black graduate , who, at the time, was trying to get the organization he founded with Monroe Trotter, The Niagara Movement, off the ground.
In this case, this would be movement does have a Wikipedia page: The Niagara Movement was a black civil rights organization founded in 1905 by a group led by W.E.B. DuBois and William Monroe Trotter. It was named for the "mighty current" of change the group wanted to effect and Niagara Falls, the Canadian side of which was where the first meeting took place in July 1905. The Niagara Movement was a call for opposition to racial segregation and disenfranchisement, and it was opposed to policies of accommodation and conciliation promoted by African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington.
In 1910, a year later after joining Overton’s new interracial organization, DuBois started the Crisis magazine, which became the official publication of the newly minted NAACP, and became one of the most feared magazine in American history.
When I became the editor of the Crisis in 1984, only the sixth in its long history, I discovered this hidden history about the central role Mary White Overton played in creating the most effective civil rights organization America has ever seen.
Let us hope that future books on the history of the civil rights struggle in America give her the same due that Professor Jones gave A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin.
As a young reporter at the New York Daily News in the 1980s, I heard of the brilliance of columnist Michael Daly, his award-winning articles, his brash attitude, and his sudden fall from grace concerning a May 8, 1981 column which he wrote of a bloody clash between British soldiers and youths in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
The London Daily Mail called it “a pack of lies” and “a work of pure imagination.” It turns out that Daly wasn’t even there. The British army said the soldiers in the column existed and none of the patrols remembered seeing an American reporter. Daly was forced to resign to save the paper from further embarrassment.
Like current scandal-ridden politicos, Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer, aiming their sights at civic redemption, Daly has positioned himself for a second act as well. He has shaken himself off like a literary Lazarus, moved past the criticism of his former tabloid past and a lackluster stint at New York Magazine, to become a special correspondent with Newsweek and The Daily Beast. His third book, Topsy, has just been published this summer.
First, let me say, Daly has done a commendable job researching the America at the turn of the last century, going into the heyday of the circus as a cultural institution, the nature of the media hoaxes, the gullible public obsessed with cheap thrills. However, the author focuses his energy on big-time circus entrepreneur Adam Forepaugh’s prize elephant, Topsy, named after the character in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Circus hype sold the crowds on the pachyderm being the America’s first-born native, but in reality, it was smuggled as a baby from Asia around 1875 and eventually featured as a prize attraction in Coney Island.
Some of the most intriguing sections of the book involve the no-holds-barred rivalry of ruthless master showmen P.T. Barnum and Forepaugh, who use every media and marketing trick in their “War of the Elephants,” a highly-contested campaign to present America with a younger, stronger, and “sacred” animal.
Using letters, newspaper accounts, and internal circus memos, Daly recreates the white-hot competition between the titans as they tried to draw crowds into their tents and drive the other out of business.
Although the first elephant arrived in the United States in 1796, it is the confrontation between Barnum and Forepaugh that brought the large mammal to the forefront. Daly takes no prisoners in drawing a realistic portrait of these men: Barnum who wanted everything his way and Forepaugh who would do anything for publicity. He also duplicates the heady atmosphere of the circus, the oddities, the freakish acts, the sideshows, and the sinister parasites surrounding the bustling enterprise.
But the elephant takes center stage. Daly, like bestselling author Irving Wallace in his 1959 The Fabulous Showman, is fascinated by Barnum, the super-salesman who thought of the elephant as the crown jewel of his enterprise.
In Wallace’s novel, the author quotes Barnum about the elephant’s importance from a letter: “He can draw the attention of twenty millions of American citizens to Barnum’s Museum…I studied ways to arrest public attention; to startle, to make people talk and wonder.”
Americans loved elephants at that time and still do. When Forepaugh’s circus began to attract larger crowds, Barnum called him a fraud and said Topsy,“the small and inferior Asiatic elephant,” was born in Philadelphia. However, he shrewdly offered $100,000 for any baby born in America.
A superb writer able to concoct magic with every sentence with telling detail, Daly repeatedly captures the excitement of the public witnessing the arrival of the circus for the first time: “The show’s perpetual goal on the road was for the elephants and the caged animals to arrive at the next destination in time to parade through the middle of town. The baggage train would have arrived far enough in advance to set up the tents. The exhausted workmen would sprawl around the perimeter of the big top during the shows, keeping a half-open eye out for kids trying to sneak in under the canvas while the elephants and other animals performed along with the acrobats and clowns.” (pp. 90-91)
Elephants are unpredictable yet loyal creatures. But when they are treated cruelly, they strike out, sometimes fatally. Some say Topsy killed three people. Daly writes the much beloved pachyderm only killed once, and that was only after decades of abuse. She only killed the man after he jabbed her with a lit cigar. Other accounts say the man threw it in her mouth. For that incident, her owner condemns her to death.
Here, Daly showcases his second big rivalry of the book, Thomas A. Edison and George Westinghouse, two inventors, who want to “electrify the nation” in the War of the Currents. Edison has the edge on manipulating the press, boosting the merits of his direct current (DC) over Westinghouse’s alternating current (AC), while jockeying for the franchise of New York’s executions. Topsy would be the unwitting victim for 6,000 volts of electrical current at Coney Island in 1903. Edison would film the pitiful killing, which can now be seen on YouTube, and the electrocution would be carried out by Westinghouse’s mighty alternating current.
It’s a very sad farewell.
But for all of the book’s glorious reconstructions of Americana, it is Daly’s sweeping, well-crafted panorama of class and privilege, bait-and-switch marketing, animal abuse, greed, and public deception that scores mightily. As always, his sure-footed storytelling skill is a strong selling point, told with both force and energy. This is memorable, readable entertainment capable of tugging at your heartstrings.
Free spirit, self-proclaimed pagan who considered the Art of the Dance her religion (and yes that is “Art” with a capital “A”), Duncan is generally cited as one of the founders — if not the mother — of modern dance. Eighty-seven years after it first came out, Isadora Duncan’s autobiography My Life is being republished in a new restored edition.
Born 1887 in San Francisco, California — “by the sea,” she is quick to point out, “under the star of Aphrodite,” Duncan claims almost to have been born dancing from the womb. Certainly she had a sense of her own importance from early on, her mission was to restore Dance back to the highest pantheon of the Arts by choreographing and dancing to the best classical music composed, both past and contemporary.
She disliked ballet, which she thought artificial and stiff, and looked to the music to inspire her movements. Before the age of 12 she had started her own school. Her disillusioned Catholic mother may have raised her children as atheists, and Isadora proclaims the beauty and wisdom of scientific thought, but in reality she is a pagan, going so far as starting to build a temple to the ancient Greek gods on a hillside near Athens with the help of her brother Raymond, much to the amusement of the local Greeks who sold her family the land.
The family fortunes cycled from poor to rich and then back again, but Art is always the driving force, and certainly Isadora’s family believes in her. Mother, two brothers and a sister, follow her from California through Chicago and onto New York, as she dances in rich women’s drawing rooms and onstage. Classical Greece is in fashion and Isadora in her white Greek tunic is popular and her artistry admired.
The family decamps to London, where they pretty much live in the British Museum, inspired by the paintings and sculpture on display. Isadora is soon taken up by an impresario, and she becomes an artistic — and financial — success in England, and then all of Europe.
She performs, there is adulation, there is money, and then she gets distracted — a temple to build, a school to start — until there is no money and she has to perform again. She is beautiful and talented, romantic and passionate, an original. With, however, some bluntly progressive ideas:
“Any intelligent woman who reads the marriage contract and then goes into it, deserves all the consequences. Personally I think the woman’s movement cannot ever call itself the woman’s independent movement, until they swear once and all to abolish marriage.”
As to be expected, her independent feminist views stirred controversy, especially when insisting on lecturing audiences about it while unmarried and pregnant.
And Duncan is certainly unromantic when it comes to being pregnant and giving birth without anesthetics: “It is unheard of, uncivilized barbarism that any woman should still be forced to bear such monstrous torture. . . It is simply absurd that, with our modern science, painless childbirth does not exist as a matter of course. . . What I think of what I endured, and what many women victims endure, through the unspeakable egotism and blindness of men of science who permit such atrocities when they can be remedied.”
Despite her words, she is neither anti-men nor an indifferent mother — she adored the fathers of her children and quickly falls in love with her daughter “Oh women, what is the good of us learning to become lawyers, painters or sculptors when this miracle exists?”
Not that she was ever tempted to leave her art for child or man. “My work,” roars Gordon Craig, one of the big loves of her life and the father of her daughter.
“My school,” replies Isadora.
Founding a school to teach children — not necessarily to be dancers, but to have an artistic creative life — is a life-long passion. “If I had only visioned the dance as a solo, my way would have been quite simple. Already famous, sought after in every country, I had only to pursue a triumphal career,” she says immodestly, but truthfully. “But, alas! I was possessed by the idea of a school.”
From childhood in San Francisco, to New York, Germany, France and Russia, up until the end of her life, Isadora established schools and, with her sister, attempted to teach her vision of dance and the creative life.
There is much to be amused at in these recollections, often having to do with outsize artistic egos. Isadora’s first physical love affair is with a dashing young Hungarian actor playing Shakespeare’s Romeo. His passion becomes somewhat less when the production ends and he begins his new role of Marc Antony, much to her chagrin.
Then there is Isadora’s account of being the interpreter between Craig, the English theater director-designer and theorist credited as one of the major influences on modern theater in the 20th century and the Italian actress Eleanora Duse, considered one of the greatest artists of her day.
Neither could speak the other’s language, both demanded complete agreement, so Isadora completely lied to them to their faces when translating one’s words to the other, assuring each that they were in total agreement when in fact they had opposite views.
Fortunately, the result was a complete artistic triumph, with Duse declaring that all her future performances would be in collaboration with Craig. Unfortunately later on when there was a problem and Isadora was not there to translate, and Craig and Duse never spoke again.
And there is tragedy. Her two children die in a freak accident with their nanny, when the emergency brake of the car they are waiting in fails, and the car roles into the Seine and they drown. A third child dies soon after being born. It is a grief that she never recovers from. Lovers leave, schools fail, money runs out — and World War I sends the whole world into mayhem and grief. Isadora grows older, heavier, less beautiful and critics and audiences are not always kind to her performances.
I asked a friend, a former dancer whose daughter now takes ballet, if anyone even knew who Isadora Duncan was anymore. “Of course,” was her response, and went on to talk about Duncan’s importance to modern dance and anyone who choreographs today.
None of Duncan’s performances were preserved on film — by her own request, as she felt that she must have a rapport with the audience in order to dance and thought that filming would interfere — and despite all the dance schools she founded, there has never been a company dedicated to performing her dances, unlike Balanchine or Ailey.
Nevertheless, her life and her art remain an important inspiration. I wish this edition of the book had included more photographs than just the one on the cover and the frontispiece; there is a strong desire to at least see the still images, even if the movement cannot be recovered.
Pray for Us Sinners, originally published in 2000 is dropping on the literary scene once again. The author, Patrick Taylor, has found great success and renown in these thirteen years for his fiction set in the Irish countryside, most notably with his Irish Country series.
Taylor has an interesting and successful past: growing up in Northern Ireland, earning his M.D., leaving the troubles of his home country for Canada where he contributed to the field of medical research, and eventually throwing his hat in the ring of novel writing.
Pray for Us Sinners is a tale of war, a story that takes place during the battle for Northern Ireland. The Provisional IRA is concocting schemes to make Belfast and the rest of the six counties of Northern Ireland ungovernable.
If the British can’t control the lands they will be forced to leave. In this effort the Provos are becoming more daring and savage, attacking civilian targets to get at the British.
In this climate of bombings and violence, an old school Irish bomb maker, Davy MacCutheon, a hard man who has seen it all and never cared for the civilian strikes, is having his resolve tested by the atrocities he witnesses and the pressure he receives from his love, Fiona, to get out.
On the other side, Marcus Richardson is a British bomb disposal officer. Marcus takes stock of his life after a car bomb nearly takes it. He has faced fear all his life, but now he doesn’t think he wants to anymore. When offered a position in the SAS, Marcus takes the most dangerous mission he’s ever faced, to go undercover and infiltrate the Provisional IRA. This mission will test Richardson, making him question his resolve, his motives, and what exactly he wants in life.
Through the course of the story, these two men’s paths cross, both needing something from the other. They are each trying to find their way out, but with one more job to do, the clock is ticking.
The story goes deeper than the fighting; it is a chronicling of the hatred, which perpetuated the conflict, and the humanity that struggled and flourished even under its shadow. Taylor displays the conditions of Belfast in the early years of the recent Irish “troubles”: bombings, unemployment, Protestant elitism, and Catholic hostility. But he also shows friendships and relationships founded in love and respect, characters trying to show that Catholic or Protestant, people share a common thread.
John Keating, an actor that has lent his talents to Taylor’s writings numerous times reading for the Irish Country series, draws the listener in with his Irish brogue and various English accents giving the feel that we are having a pint in the pub with Marcus or Davy, or standing at attention during a meeting with Marcus’s higher-ups.
The knowledge and talent of both the reader and author create an enjoyable, captivating, and often tense drive through the bomb-torn streets of Belfast in the 1970s. Taylor’s pace and breaks usually make it easy to follow the action and the characters.
It may just be my Irish heritage, or the skill and knowledge Taylor and Keating bring to Pray for Us Sinners, but I found myself interested from start to finish. And if you enjoy this story, you’ll be happy to know that there is a sequel, Now and in the Hour of Our Death, for your reading (as it has not yet made the leap to audio) pleasure.