Author: Reynolds Price
Title: Kate Vaiden
Publication Info: Scribner (1986)
Summary/Review: This story set in rural North Carolina and later in Norfolk, Virginia is told from the perspective as a memoir titular character. Kate’s parents die in a murder-suicide leaving Kate to be raised by relatives and to get involve in self-destructive sexual relationships at a young age. The tone of the book is one of distance and indifference, perhaps appropriate to a narrator who has shut her self off from the world, but at the same time it is difficult to read a story that the narrator seems uninterested in telling. What could be a good story of an interior struggle comes off as dull and unconvincing.
Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’
Author: Reynolds Price
Book Review: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation. Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation. Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves (2008) by M.T. Anderson continues and completes the young adult Revolutionary War saga. I read the first volume, The Pox Party, earlier this year and it was by far one of my favorite books of the year so far. This volume picks up with Octavian escaping a death sentence and with his tutor Dr. Trefusis make it into besieged Boston. There he is a violinist performing to entertain the British regulars. Octavian yearns for something more and answers the call of Virginia governor Lord Dunmore who has created a Royal Ethiopian regiment for slaves of rebellious masters willing to take up arms to put down the rebellion in exchange for their freedom.
The majority of the book is in the form of Octavian’s diary (interspersed with a few letters written by other actors in this drama). He describes the hope and optimism of slaves gaining freedom and learning to fight. His reunion and developing relationship with the older, wiser slave Pro Bono. He tells the stories of his fellow slaves and how they made their escape. He describes in grim detail the loss of Norfolk and the plague of smallpox the decimates the regiment. Eventually Octavian’s spirit is all but crushed and he comes to the conclusion that Dunmore has no desire to free slaves other than for tactical purposes.
I have to admit that this book dragged at times. There was too much verisimilitude in a day-to-day diary of the mundane life of a foot soldier. I also admit that with the reality of Octavian’s life already established in the previous volume that it loses the unique science fiction edge and reads more like a straight-forward historical novel. The novel does follow real historical events and recreates them in an admirable way. Yet, and it may just be due to flashbacks of working at Colonial Williamsburg, I had trouble getting into this book. If you enjoyed the first volume as I did, I would definitely recommend completing Octavian’s story.
Author Anderson, M. T.
Title The astonishing life of Octavian Nothing, traitor to the nation. v. #2 The kingdom on the waves / taken from accounts by his own hand and other sundry sources ; collected by M.T. Anderson of Boston.
Publication Info. Cambridge, Mass. : Candlewick Press, 2008.
Edition 1st ed.
Description 561 p. : maps ; 24 cm.
On 2 March 1998, I went home. Sort of.
I had to wake up early to make sure I made it to Heathrow Airport on time so I got promises from my French dormate Nadja and a Danish woman that they’d wake me before they left for work. I was so keyed up I didn’t need any waking and woke long before I needed to. While checking out of the hostel, I had a very friendly conversation with an Australian woman checking in. In the “go figure” department, it may have been the most promising initial conversation I had with a member of the opposite sex in the entire 6 weeks.
Earl’s Court is conveniently on the Piccadilly Line to Heathrow, and the Tube whisked me to the airport (something Londoners tell me is not typical). The flight home on Virgin Atlantic was festive. The flight attendants gave out shots of Bailey’s and brandy (I had one of each). I watched the James Bond flick Goldfinger and the Muhammad Ali documentary When Were Kings on the Virgin TV. I distinctly remember drunken women singing “Brimful of Asha” in the rows behind me.
My sister Barbara met me at Dulles. My first impressions on being back in the States is that all the green money looked odd, and it was weird to see cars driving on the right. Barbara had taken my car in for repair while I was gone, but it had problems. “It’s the darnedest thing I ever saw,” said the auto mechanic. So my travels extended to one more night in Richmond before I made my triumphant return to Bastardsville on March 3.
This is probably where I should list my favorite parts and lessons learned, but I think I’ve bored you enough with my travelog. Thanks for reading, and if you enjoyed this maybe I’ll tell you about some of my other trips one day.
I got a free copy of the Teacher’s Edition of Bridge to Terabithia (1977) by Katherine Paterson at the ALA Conference exhibition hall. I’d never heard of the book prior to the release of the movie this year, which is surprising since the 1977 release date puts it right in my childhood. Then again I didn’t read children’s books as a child.
The narrative style and dialog are bit hokey and distracting in their hee-haw Southern parody. Other than that I like this book. I like the friendship between a boy and a girl, more unusual then than now. I like the theme of the outsiders. I like how they create an imaginary world, their battles and pageantry there are in their minds not in the story (which leaves room for imagination in the minds of the reader). I especially like the very honest and true-to-life examination of grief when someone close to you dies.
The one thing I didn’t get was why the teacher took Jess to Washington to visit museums. That’s kind of creepy in a way. I thought maybe she knew about Leslie’s death and wanted to give Jess a good memory, but it’s never explained in the book. Anyone know?
Sometimes like the Barbie doll you need to give people something that’s for them, not just something that makes you feel good giving it (p. 160).
As a follow-up to Jamestown’s 400th anniversary, Susan and I watched the latest cinematic interpretation of the Jamestown story The New World (2005). In the movie we meet our lead characters John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pochahantas/Matoaka/Rebecca (Q’Orianka Kilcher). Smith wanders sullenly through the tall grasses of the Virginia swamps and laconically avoids conversation with his fellow settlers. You can tell he’s a a true devotee of emo and at times you can almost see the earbuds of his iPod where he listens to an endless shuffle of Thom Yorke. Pochahantas by contrast is a crunchy, hippy girl who dances around the groovy Powhatan village. This extremely well-developed 10-year old and the English pedophile are of course destined for star-crossed love.
Not that they put it that way, but despite claiming to base the film on the latest historical research and even giving a nod to Bill Kelso in the credits, the filmmakers chose to put the mythical romance of Captain Smith and Pochahantas at the center of the story. Like the story of Jesus and Mary Magdelene as lovers the Smith/Pochantas tale at one time may have been an interesting “what if?” but by now is trite and I wonder why authors, artists, and filmmakers keep dipping back into that dry well. Especially since the true story is much more interesting.
Apart from historical innacuracy, weird editing is the bane of this film. Like a music video the movie cuts quickly from image to image, rarely allowing time for a coherent scene. Look Pochantas is patting John Smith’s cheek! Now she’s fifty feet away gesturing to the gods in the sky! Now there’s Chief Powhatan looking grumpy!
Meanwhile back in the fort, a number of extras from Monty Python and David Lynch films are standing around not doing much. A real settlement would require constant tree felling, building, hunting, cooking, preparing goods for the winter, but at this Jamestown there is only room for malaise. They do shoot each other every once in a while for no particular reason, and act creepy to keep things interesting.
Not that it’s all bad. It’s better than the Disney film or the dramatic production “Journey of Destiny.” The cinematography is beautiful, capturing the lush wilderness of Virginia and the courtly world of England equally well. In fact, like the train wreck of Gangs of New York the filmmakers paid great attention to detail in getting the costumes, props and sets to match exacting historical detail. They just didn’t bother to do that with the plot.
So if you like tragic romances, watch this film with the caveat that it is not a true story. If you like history, watch it for the sets and costumes. If you’re annoyed by failure to adhere to a simple historical narrative, don’t watch it all.
As detailed in this post about Jamestown, the buried truth, I’ve been greatly anticipating the 400th anniversary of the first permanent English settlement in the Western hemisphere. May 13, 1607 is the date of the founding of Jamestown by the Virginia Company (although some sources state May 14, since that is the day the colonists went ashore and started building. I’ll go with the 13th since that is also my sister’s birthday). I first visited Jamestown as a geeky 11-year old in 1985 and even at that time I calculated that I could be alive for the 400th anniversary, albeit impossibly old. Turns out I’m not as old as I imagined, but I’m still geeky and love commemorations of historic events. Since I lived in James City County, VA (the modern continuance of Jamestown) for 7 years, and worked in a living history museum in Virginia, this was an event I could not miss.
The key event is patriotically called America’s 400th Anniversary cleverly overlooking the priority of St. Augustine while advancing Jamestown’s claim over those upstarts in Plymouth, MA. Jamestown does have the advantage that it plays a role in beginning one of the colonies that would eventually form the original United States whereas Florida is in territory acquired later, so Jamestown is central to the story of the American experience from its very beginning. This point was emphasized by stressing the “birth of democracy” (basically the election of the Virginia Company’s chairmen of the board in 1619) and the “birth of slavery” since captured Africans first arrived in America for forced labor at Jamestown, also in 1619. Another interesting point is that Jamestown is the first place in the world where people of Europe, Africa, and indigenous Americans lived and worked together, albeit far from an ideal community.
The anniversary weekend took place 11-13 May and my mother and I attended on Sunday, the final day. Due to a visit by President Bush, access to the site was restricted from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm and people who were already there were pretty much in a lockdown situation. So we decided to arrive in the afternoon, after the President departed, and security was less stringent. The logistics for the event were excellent, especially the use of satellite parking in numerous lots in the area with school buses shuttling visitors to Jamestown. The scenic Colonial Parkway basically became a convoy of yellow buses as well as a staging area for emergency vehicles. The bus was full of happy, chatting people and was a good way to start the day. Oddly, many people who still live in the area went out of town (including my mother’s co-workers) but they were counterbalanced by the soldier we met on the bus who used his leave from Iraq to come Jamestown.
We arrived first at Jamestown Settlement, which looks very different from when my mom worked there and when I volunteered with the museum registrar to help count rocks. Not only is the museum expanded and redesigned but they’ve even realigned a road around the parking lot! We visited the living history exhibits at Jamestown Settlement which for maybe the first time ever were densely populated with costumed historic interpreters. One of the first employees I met was my friend and former housemate Lara although we did not get to speak for long. We wandered through the recreated James Forte, down to the ships, and back to the Powhatan village.
Next we took the bus to the actual site of the original settlement at Historic Jamestowne, property which is administered jointly by the National Park Service and the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA). Things have changed there quite a bit since my last visit as well, especially since the APVA hired Dr. William Kelso to conduct an archaeological excavation which uncovered the remains of the original James Fort used from 1607-24, and many other fascinating discoveries. We arrived just in time to hear Bill Kelso speak which may have been the highlight of the day for me. I don’t think Kelso ever finished his presentation because he got a bit choked up the the magnitude of the day, but he received a well-deserved standing ovation. After strolling through the fort site and taking a lunch break by the river, we waited in line for the brand new Archearium a museum containing the relics, um, I mean artifacts from Kelso’s Jamestown Rediscovery excavations. The wait was long to get into the small museum, made longer because we chose to visit the gallery with the skeletons. While in line we saw that the elderly woman behind us had a pewter broche from the Jamestown tercentenary in 1907 which was pretty cool. What was not cool is that the younger woman pushing the elderly woman’s wheelchair kept pushing it into my heels, and didn’t seem all to sorry about the pushiness either.
While wonderful to visit all the museum sites on THE DAY, they definitely will be worth a more comprehensive return visit in the future. Footsore and facing closing time at the museums, we headed over to the Anniversary Park to relax with entertainment. Anniversary Park was once the Jamestown Beach Campsites and I’m said to see it’s gone (unless they campground owners just rented the land out for the weekend). We stayed at that campground on our first visit to Virginia in 1985 and it has sentimental memories. Anniversary Park consisted of a giant stage and a grassy area for the audience as well as some exhibition tents that we never had time to see.
There were a lot of people in Anniversary Park when we arrived including the 1,607-voice choir and 400-piece orchestra performing. For some reason I expected all those musicians to be really loud but in the “back rows” the music sounded faint even when amplified.
Following the concert, emcee Dr. Rex Ellis told us we had a “special treat,” a performance entitled “Journey of Destiny.” Subtitled: “Hokey-hontas.” Told through a bizarre mix of interpretive dance, historical pageants, and dramatic readings of primary documents, “Journey of Destiny” recreated Jamestown history in an incredibly cheezy manner.
Once that was over, the Governor of Virginia and family dropped some things in the time capsule. Rex Ellis told us that the time capsule had a CD-player, DVD-player, and batteries for future generations to use to watch and listen to the items within. I suspect those things will be rusted and inoperative. But I’m a librarian, and librarians and archivists hate time capsules.
For a finale, fireworks lit up the chilly night sky accompanied by the 400-piece orchestra. That may be the first time I’ve ever seen fireworks with live music which is pretty cool even if the musical selection was odd for the event (The 1812 Overture? The Star Wars main title theme?) It was all good fun though, and a nice finale. Despite being in a crowd of up to 30,000 people we were able to get to our shuttle bus and back to home fairly swiftly.
Lots more about Jamestown’s Birthday at the Library of Congress blog.
I searched Technorati to find posts by other people who attended the Jamestown 2007 events but didn’t have much luck. Most posts were simply reporting on the event or criticizing them (or reporting on Bush’s visit and criticizing him). If you attended America’s 400th Anniversary please post your thoughts in the comments and/or link to your blog. Thanks!
Also in my searches I found this map of the College of William & Mary as Middle-Earth, which has nothing to do with Jamestown but it’s damned funny.
As my mom likes to tell the story, back in 1994 archaeologist Bill Kelso addressed a small audience to introduce his plans for the Jamestown Rediscovery project. The lack of interest arose from the notion that all that could be learned about the early days of the settlement had already been discovered. It was popularly believed that the remains of James Fort had been eroded by the James River.
Bill Kelso proved them wrong.
Jamestown, the Buried Truth by William M. Kelso tells the story of 12 years of excavation and discovery at Jamestown. The remains of the triangular fort from Jamestown’s early period 1607-1624 were there to be found, and the was just the beginning. The archaeologists uncovered remnants of the monumental effort to build a new colony in an unforgiving country fighting diseases, weather, starvation and conflicts with the native population of Tsenacomacans. The material record tells stories undocumented in the colonists records and early histories. The archaeological team may even have uncovered the remains of Bartholomew Gosnold, an early leader of the colony.
Kelso emphasizes that despite their flaws and mistakes, the Jamestown settlers were far from failures and Jamestown was not a fiasco but in fact successfully the first permanent English settlement in North America. Much to my pleasure, Kelso writes a chapter on the long, often overlooked period of Jamestown after initial settlement. From 1619-1699 Jamestown was home to the first popularly elected governmental body and served as the capital of the Virginia Colony. Kelso traces the development of that government through the traces of the five structures that served as the State House.
I’ll be traveling to Virginia in a couple of weeks for the 400th anniversary of Jamestown’s settlement. It should be an exciting event and a big party. More information at Jamestown 2007 and Jamestown 400. Jamestown Settlement, Historic Jamestowne (National Park Service), and Historic Jamestowne (Association for the Preservation of Antiquities) are always worth a visit, in person or online.
Other Jamestownia worth reading:
The cover story in the May 2007 edition of National Geographic is all about America in 1607.
A January 9, 2007 article in the Boston Globe about archaeological discovery of seeds, Jamestown seeds reflect survival efforts.
If you like a little fiction in your history, there’s Secret Histories: The Jamestown Colony in Postmodern Fiction at The Millions (A Blog About Books).