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Book Reviews

By Anne Downey '95G

(Book titles are linked to online booksellers. Also check Dimond Library's online card catalog for these titles)
Reviewed in this issue:
Deep Souths
And 8 short reviews , including....

Priscilla Cummings '73
Donald M. Murray '48
Alex Alvarez '87G, '95G
William G. Jordan '91G, '96G
M.J. Graykin '86
Garrett E. Crow and C. Barre Hellquist
R. Dan Reid and Nada R. Sanders
Peggy Rambach '82



By John Smolens '82G
Random House 2001

In the stunning first chapter of John Smolens' third novel, Norman Haas walks away from a federal prison in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in a blinding blizzard. He ends up in Liesl Tiomenen's backyard, half-frozen, and Liesl, a sculptor, widow and the soul of Smolens' novel, lets him in, chaining him to a radiator. Then, on snowshoes and with her loaded rifle across her shoulders, she forces Norman to walk to the nearest store so she can hand him over to the sheriff. Before they make it to the store, Liesl falls off a ledge and injures her back. The chapter ends with Liesl in desperate pain in a snowbank, hoping that Norman will find help and send it her way.

Smolens writes that rare form of fiction, a realism so tangible that a part of you becomes a part of the characters, the community, the landscape. In a land of such unyielding weather, much of life is taken up with survival, and Smolens shows how cold penetrates his characters. Many of the "yoopers"--a half-mocking term U.P. residents use for themselves--he portrays, having missed the chance of finding a better life, live resigned to it: a resignation tinged with desperation. Others, like Liesl, thrive on it.

As she sculpts the bust of a man, Liesl thinks about Norman: "What Norman did, leaving her in the snow, most people would call evil. Liesl didn't think so. It was honest. He walked away from her and realized he would only put himself in jeopardy if he tried to get her help. Any animal would do the same, including a human. ... That's what she had going here: a man struggling against a cold, brutal wind and blinding snow, a man honest enough to do whatever was necessary to survive."

Across this icy, desolate landscape, the six main characters converge on an isolated hunting lodge during a blizzard, where the story that begins with a betrayal ends in a violent, shattering conclusion. Smolens' novel is so well crafted that the cold will chill you to the bone.

Deep Souths:
Delta, Piedmont, and Sea Island Society in the Age of Segregation

By J. William Harris
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001
Deep Souths

"Deep South is a term of almost mythic resonance. The phrase names the lower tier of states in the southeastern United States, but it provokes images that a more neutral geographical term--the lower South or the Gulf States --cannot. 'Still waters run deep,' we say; a profound thinker is 'deep'; the worst of anything is the 'depths.' All these connotations are suggested by Deep South: a place frozen in time, marked by violent extremes of action and belief, yet, in the hands of its writers and musicians, touched by profundity."

So begins this absorbing study of three lower-South regions--the Mississippi-Yazoo Delta, the eastern Georgia Piedmont, and the Sea Islands and rice coast of Georgia--from Reconstruction to the Second World War. Although all three regions initially shared the same histories and populations--all had economies based on slave plantation labor in 1860--their histories sharply diverged during the three generations after Reconstruction.

In the Delta, still largely a wilderness in 1860, huge public works and land clearing made possible immense cotton plantations, which drew the black migrants who gave birth to a new musical form--the blues. In the Piedmont, plantation agriculture revived with the use of black and white tenant labor, and the region became a Populist Party stronghold. Along the rice coast, thousands of former slaves became landowning peasant farmers, conserving traditions that had largely disappeared elsewhere.

Harris, who is chair of the UNH history department, is a wonderful storyteller as well as an accomplished historian, and he begins each chapter with a fascinating tale about a particular southerner. For example, the first chapter begins with the personal history of Louis Manigault, who attempted to regain his family's rice plantation after the Civil War. Another tells the story of James Monroe Smith, who built up a huge Georgia cotton plantation based on convict labor.

No less moving are his accounts of the African Americans, once slaves, who struggled to become landowners themselves. "Twenty years after the Civil War," Harris concludes, "a precarious balance had been reached in Georgia's rice region. Rice growers, operating in a highly competitive commercial market, depended on black labor to keep their plantations in business. Former slaves owned small plots of land and operated in a peasant-like economy in which autonomy meant more than success. African Americans had won much of the autonomy they wanted, but not all, because they still depended on work in the rice fields to bring in needed cash. Neither former masters nor former slaves had gotten everything they hoped for."

Harris deftly moves between personal history and analysis, making this a rich and multi-layered study about a complex era in American history. ~

Anne Downey '95G, a free-lance writer who lives in Eliot, Maine, received her Ph.D. in English from UNH.

Short Reviews

A Face First by Priscilla Cummings '73, Dutton Children's Books, 2001. This is a wonderful novel about a 12-year-old girl who learns to piece her life together after it is shattered by an accident. The best fiction for children offers much for adults, and so it is with this novel as we learn about burn injuries, family strength and courage.

A Face First

Writing to Deadline: The Journalist at Work by Donald M. Murray '48, Heinemann, 2000. A lively and engaging primer on the art and craft of journalism, including interesting interviews with reporters and helpful analyses of news stories.

Writing to Deadline

Governments, Citizens and Genocide: A Comparative and Interdisciplinary Approach by Alex Alvarez '87G, '95G, Indiana University Press, 2001. Viewing the crime of genocide through the lens of social science, this book examines it from the perspective of the state, organization and individual, showing how government olicies and institutions in genocidal states are designed to suppress the moral inhibitions of ordinary individuals.

Governments, Citizens and Genocide

Black Newspapers & America's War for Democracy, 1914-1920 by William G. Jordan '91G, '96G, University of North Carolina Press, 2001. A fascinating account of the strategies black newspapers employed during World War I to both support democracy and demand racial justice.

Black Newspapers

Awake Chimera by M.J. Graykin '86, Xlibris Corporation, 2001. This imaginative novel tracks the developing friendship of two non-human protagonists: Castellan Prilock, a super cop who can assume the appearance of any creature or object he desires, and Shaka Mahdi, who captains her own ship and has an enormous, and very useful, reptilian tail. Their adventures shed light on the sometimes amusing, sometimes disgusting and almost always inferior behavior of humans.


Aquatic and Wetland Plants of Northeastern North America, Volumes One and Two by Garrett E. Crow and C. Barre Hellquist, University of Wisconsin Press, 2000. An exhaustive reference work which identifies pretty much any plant you are likely to come across while wandering through bogs, marshes, swamps and other wetland areas in the northeastern United States and Canada. A professor of plant biology at UNH, Crow has been investigating aquatic plants for more than three decades.

Wetland Plantsiu

Operations Management by R. Dan Reid and Nada R. Sanders, John Wiley & Sons, 2001. For Reid, a UNH associate professor of operations management, and Sanders, operations management affects every aspect of life. The book focuses on how operations management fits into the business environment.

Operations Management

Fighting Gravity by Peggy Rambach '82, Steerforth Press, 2001. This novel, based on the author's relationship with writer Andre Dubus, chronicles the rise and fall of a marriage.


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