Discussion of Suite Harmonic by Emily Meier

There’s something about the words below that resonate with me and remind me, again, how truly awful war is.  This is toward the end of John Given’s enlistment in the Union Army and he’s quite close to returning home to Harmony, a greatly changed man, in a greatly changed nation.

……it struck him even more how blasted Decatur was.  It was very easy to get tired of looking at nothing except a soldier’s face and, without women, there was singular lack of beauty.  And color was missing.  Clothes were the sea of uniforms, faded to a vague blue, which the men, in the heat, shed as often as they could.  In a place where a normal year would have meant a host of summer flowers everywhere, the ground was unplanted-chewed up and battered by the boots of so many men.  There were no blossoms of any color.  There was no foliage.  There was only the wasted, treeless town and the mud and wood of the fort.

Emily will be checking in periodically so if you want to leave a question for her I’m sure she’ll be more than happy to respond.  It’s impossible to pin everyone down to a specific discussion time so just come in and out as time allows over the weekend.

***

Mark adds:

Suite Harmonic is a lovingly crafted narrative of war and family woven from personal written histories, especially from the letters of John Given and his sister Kate.  It is essentially a novel of manners interspersed with battle scenes.  For those of us who love Civil War stories, as I do, it is satisfying.  The main characters, John and Kate, become known to us as they become assimilated, as their Irish Catholicism fades, as they mature, and as they internalize the issues of their time.

That John survives Shiloh is amazing, that he learns that he will keep his head in combat is what gives him resiliency throughout the War.  Kate, back home in Indiana, is an interesting study in both duty and stepping out of her “place” as an Irish maid to wealthy Protestants.  Both siblings are smart and literate, which is how so much of their material survived.

The eventual love stories, after the War, especially Kate and Harry’s, are truly sweet.

The tragedies of 19th C. health care follow the characters into peace time.

A picky critic might find two anachronisms of speech, but I was not picky and did not catalog them.  My own disappointment with the novel was limited to my high expectations for it – I love historical novels.  I have been through all of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels twice.  Suite Harmonic has no plot.  Think of a lifetime series of interconnected events as told through the eyes of two siblings, in which there is no struggle between good and evil, no climax, no anti-climax, and no denouement.  John and Kate were surely so likable and admirable as presented by ABC, and the incidents themselves so fascinating in detail and social (or combat) observation, as to allow Suite Harmonic to stand without a plot.  I think it does actually present a harmonic suite of the interplay of lives shaped by the Civil War, and by the integration of immigrants into society, and by the daily struggles of people we can still recognize, although their hardships were of a different time.  I am sure it does what Emily intended it to do, and that my expectations were irrelevant.

61 Responses

  1. Very nice review Mark. Honestly, I was so captivated by the story and Given’s accounts of not only the war but his uncertainty that I didn’t even notice the lack of a plot. It read much more like a biography, precisely because of the letters.

    Like

    • Thanks, Lulu. I really liked John. Wished he had got over his infatuation with Ann, early. I was yelling at him, in my head.

      The New Harmony background is what I am guessing made it possible to find so many preserved documents, right, ABC?

      Like

  2.  
    Thanks very much to you, lmsinca, for hosting this, to those of you who’ve read Suite Harmonic, and to those of you who simply want to join the conversation. I’ll stop in now and again over the weekend and try to answer any questions you might have.
     
    Mark, I appreciate your thoughtful comments. While we could discuss the nature and variety of plot, I’ll just say that my work is always more character and place than plot-driven. I like to point to the difference between García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude. The first has a classic Cinderella sort of plot line; the second is more about the unfolding of events over time. Both are spectacular books.

    Like

    • I truly enjoyed the book, Emily, and once I realized there would be no conventional plot I stopped looking for it. Then it became more like a biographical history for me, slightly but invisibly embroidered.

      Like

  3. Emily, were any of the documents family artifacts? I feel as though I read that somewhere?

    Mark, I loved John. I loved his honesty and found it completely believable. I haven’t finished the book but I thought it was also interesting how the Irish immigrants were sort of thrown into this war with not much of a stake in it, other than proving their loyalty to their new home. I kept wondering if they had settled in GA, would they would have fought for the South.

    Like

  4. Emily, be sure to check back in as I know Michi, Okie and Ashot all have questions and comments for you. It’s nearly impossible to get us all in the same room at the same time.

    Like

  5.  
    That’s an interesting question, Mark. I spent a lot of time looking at archival documents in New Harmony and many of them helped shape the story. If the town had been less historic, many of those documents wouldn’t have existed or would not have been preserved. But I did research in all sorts of places. Certainly the battle scenes were informed by the wonderful reports I found in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (OR). And I found both public and private documents in all sorts of archives and libraries and also in genealogical sources on line.
     
    My main source was the letters, most of them written to Kate by John. They were preserved by Kate and then ended up with my grandmother, John’s youngest child, and eventually came to me. I spent years trying to track their various references. I actually struggled for a long time with how to structure the book. My goal was to make it as factually accurate as possible–a real excavation of the past–and I finally decided to let the letters themselves, including the few from after the war, create the narrative, while always making the war the central experience–from the intense moments of battle to the lingering effect of injuries, to the memories that in many ways shaped lifetimes.
     
    Btw, my combination of slow computer and hard-to-type-on iPad will make me slower with responses than I’d like.

    Like

  6. So John was your great grandfather. I love that all of those letters were preserved and handed down for someone to write the story. I have a scrapbook from my grandfather from WWI, a diary of my father’s from WWII and love letters from my father-in-law to his soon to be wife also from WWII. Perhaps someday a writer will come along in our family and do something with them.

    Like

  7. Drive-by by me (much more later when I have time to sit down and type!) and I haven’t gotten to this part yet, but I have to tell you, Emily, this:

    It was very easy to get tired of looking at nothing except a soldier’s face and, without women, there was singular lack of beauty.

    is spot on from my experience with soldiers. Is it from one of John’s letters? The first time I encountered it was when I was in Airborne School at Ft Benning, GA. I was an ROTC cadet and I was asked by an enlisted man, who had just completed eight weeks of (all male) Basic Training and then twelve weeks or so of (all male) Advanced Individual Training if I would eat dinner with him in the mess hall. I said sure, and asked him why he’d asked. . . his answer was “I just want to have dinner with somebody who doesn’t have to shave for a change.”

    I noticed over and over while I was reading that you have the actual life of actual soldiers down pat–thank you so much for that!

    Like

  8. Michi, good to see you, and I hope you’re doing OK. That wasn’t in the
    letters. I knew from talking to people in Decatur, Alabama and from the
    orders that were issued to the occupying troops, and the fact the
    residents had been evacuated just what a wasteland the place had to be. And
    then I started imagining what that would be like.

    And, lms, it could happen that your family stories trigger the interest
    of a family writer. I was in high school when my uncle returned John’s
    letters to my mother. My dad wouldn’t let me read them then, probably
    because of John’s letter to Harry Beal and his vivid description of the
    events with the women who came to Camp Stoneman late in the war. I always
    thought John’s story was remarkable because of the nexus of immigration,
    war, and New Harmony’s connection to America’s utopian tradition. It
    elevated it above family stories for me, which is one of the reasons I
    don’t advertise it upfront that John is my great-grandfather.

    I think that’s a good question about whether or not the Irish immigrants
    would have fought for the South. I’ve never looked at Southern infantry
    lists, but I’m sure they must have had lots of Irish names. I think our
    allegiances are usually shaped by what’s out the front door. When and if
    they change, it’s a major psychological event.

    Like

  9. I’m out for awhile this afternoon, finally getting back to my hospice work after three months. Hope you’ll all continue on without me, I’ll be back this evening.

    Like

  10. Emily, did Harry’s proposal picnic and the prep that went into it during planting season come from the letters, or an oral tradition, or did you invent it?

    ‘Goose, if you have not read that far, I think you will still be amazed by that chapter.

    Like

  11. I have info from Harry and Kate’s wedding certificate, letters between
    John and Harry that, among other things, indicate Harry’s involvement
    with other girls after the war, Harry’s service records and various other
    documents including one that puts him in Grayville as a miller. I also
    have a friend in New Harmony who planted a labyrinth for his girlfriend, and
    I encountered a pretty remarkable sculpture woven of twigs in New
    Harmony. Lots of things went together to suggest the scene. And then just
    writing a scene can reveal what happens based on its internal logic, what
    you know of the characters

    Like

  12. abc/emily, first and foremost, thank you for taking the time to discuss with us. It is very much appreciated. Actually, I feel quite honored that you are taking time to do this.

    Confession, I need to go back and review because I read the book some time ago,but I do recall that I was enthralled with the descriptions of the conventions and mores of the time. Where did the research for those types of things originate?

    P.S. I know I bookmarked some passages as I was reading, so I’ll be back with other questions later. I’m sure you look forward to it with bated breath.

    Like

  13. lms and mark, thanks to both of you for your positive and accurate descriptions. Well done.

    Like

  14. Hi Okie. I really loved Kate and her flirtation with independence. When she asked John to vote for Lincoln for her because she couldn’t, and described how important it was to her, for some reason I felt like crying……………..silly I know.

    Like

  15. lms, yes, it was a master tie-in to the vote for women. I’m not so sure I view Kate’s portrayal as a “flirtation with independence .” Was it not much more than a flirtation, given the times?

    Like

  16. One thing that these comments capture, and which I think may fuel Mark’s point about the absence of a plot, is the remarkable depth of the characters and their varying priorities, concerns and paths as they go through the book. As is noted above, the soldiers struggle with fighting for a country where they are largely seen as second class citizens but ultimately take great pride in fighting for the north. Yet even then there is also pride that as good soldiers they are representing the Irish. This is just one example of the complexity of the characters. I can see how staying loyal to the letters could lead a reader to not seeing a plot but life often isn’t that convenient. Whatever was lost in plot was made up for by staying loyal to interesting characters with diverse and often conflicting thoughts, priorities, hopes and dreams.

    Two other quick thoughts: First, being only 32 I know little of the devestation of war and can’t fathom how devastating the Civil War must have been to towns like New Harmony both in loss of life and impact on those who survived. Lastly, it was interesting to read about the difficulty John had in reacclimating to civilian life in light of the difficulties encountered by modern soldiers in doing the same. I suppose some things never change.

    Like

  17. Hi, okie. That’s a very big question about where the knowledge of
    conventions and mores came from. I’ll emphasize again that the group of
    family letters was my main source for everything (and I should add here
    that letting them dictate much of the book’s structure and chronology,
    meant that at least the story of the war years was very much like a
    picaresque novel). I made a real study of them, returning to them over
    and over again and trying to internalize a sense of the different people
    who became characters in the book and the sorts of things they did and
    the expectations of their society. I pretty much had John’s voice
    implanted in my head.

    But there were many other sources that helped me construct the world and
    I had my ear out for everything. There’s a journal in the Workingmen’s
    Institute in New Harmony (WMI) written by Frank Bolton whose family dated
    to the Owenite period in New Harmony. He talks about his boyhood and
    about the kinds of interactions in the community over several decades. I
    learned from that. I also read a great deal in the journals of Achilles
    Fretageot written during the war. I was always on the lookout for the
    mention of a Given in those journals, and it rarely happened because
    their social milieus were different. Essentially, their absence gave me a
    big clue about the New Harmony class structure. Also, when I was first
    looking into the history of the Minerva Society, which was very early in
    my research, I hunted for Kate’s name. I couldn’t find it and the woman
    who had shown me the records said–embarrassed–that an Irish girl
    wouldn’t have been a member. I knew from the census that both Kate and
    Margaret Mulhern were serving girls in the homes of two of the town’s
    leading families, and John tells Kate in a letter that he doesn’t want
    his sisters going where they’re not welcome. All these things suggested
    tensions I could use for dramatic purposes and for depicting life as it
    was.

    As Mark noted earlier, much about New Harmony is well documented. Robert
    Owen has been pretty widely studied and the social and intellectual
    interests he passed on to his children shaped the town’s character in
    many ways. (I’m reaching far beyond conventions and mores here, but we
    can thank the influence of New Harmony for the U.S. Geological Survey and
    the Owen sons for the plan and very existence of the Smithsonian.) I
    found the list of things that Owen’s daughter taught in her school in a
    newspaper ad, the same way I learned what was sold by Absolem Boren in
    his store after the war. I believe I learned about the length of mourning
    periods from an online genealogy newsletter. A woman at the National
    Library in Dublin told me about the Irish naming practice–first son
    after the paternal grandfather, first daughter after the maternal
    grandmother, second son after the maternal grandfather, second daughter
    after the paternal grandmother. I was able to deduce what happened to
    some unmarried girls in Ireland through discovering in a cemetery
    database that James Mulhern of Donegal owned plots in Londonderry where
    one of his sisters and her daughter, both with the last name Mulhern,
    were buried. These are just a few examples of sources. I could probably
    go on for the length of the book, but I think you can get the idea that
    everything was a source, every new fact something to build on.

    Like

  18. LOL, lms: I just experienced what you expressed earlier in re receiving emails of posted comments. I know I have not changed any preferences. Did you get rid of this “feature”?

    Like

  19. Thanks, Emily. You may or may not remember that I too of am Irish heritage, but much different in where they settled. I am just now finding out about much of it due to my Irish father’s estrangement from his family, so all of this is interesting to me. My father’s family seems to have settled in Kansas, although my father was raised in Chicago. Their experiences, such as I have gleened so far, seem different from yours although from roughly the same time period.

    Like

  20. Okie, what’s been happening to me is under the comment box when I click in the box to make a comment are two little boxes related to email. All of a sudden the first one will have a check in it for no apparent reason. ???????

    Like

  21. Hi Ash, it does seem there are some universal themes of war and soldiering doesn’t it? I think the readjustment period is one such theme. Thanks for sharing your perceptions of the book.

    Like

  22. lms, thanks! Why is that box suddenly checked when it was not before? Shall I write it off as one of the mysteries of life? Hahahaha.

    Like

  23. Thanks for jumping in, ashot. It’s really true that the challenge of
    readjusting to civilian life is an issue after every war. It becomes even
    more complex when there are lasting physical injuries. Reading pension
    files was often an emotional experience for me. Michael McShane’s was
    particularly hard since he’d been in Andersonville and was just a wreck.
    Of course a lot of the pension files consist of men trying to make the
    case for an extra dollar a month to compensate for work they couldn’t do
    and then getting turned down. That seems to be a tradition as
    well–sending people to war and then looking the other way when they come
    home.

    Okie, I do remember the Irish connection. I think we concluded some of the difference was due to small town vs. city.

    Like

  24. Emily, considering all the research and sources you used, how long would you say you actually worked writing the book? Did you do all the research first and then write or were they concurrent in some way?

    Like

  25. emily, thank you for remembering. What I may not have known at the time (my family is suddenly receiving much new info) is that although my father was raised in Chicago, his father was the family “black sheep.” Most of them settled in rural KS, not the big city. But the stories still seem different. If not, as we both thought before, a difference between small town vs. city, then what?

    Like

  26. I spent about four years doing nothing but research before I really started writing. That was tough for me because I missed writing and friends wondered what was taking me so long. There was just so much to hunt for and learn. Once I began to write I still had to search for more information. That was particularly true when I was working on the battle scenes. Though there are just two big battles, Ft. Donelson and Shiloh, that the reader goes through from start to finish with John, every skirmish or siege or part of a battle meant poring over both primary and secondary sources. I sometimes wrote with print-outs from my CD of the OR on my desk and a giant book of reprinted Harper’s Weeklys on my lap. I wanted to get the troop movements correct–what unit was where, what officer was in charge. I wanted the war history to be good history and that meant constantly referring to sources while I made the particular experience John’s.
     
    All in all, I probably spent seven plus years on the book. Some of that involved later revisions after my first completed draft, though I always revise a lot as I go.
     
    As far as the differences between Kansas and New Harmony, New Harmony would likely have been more settled. And it was unique as small towns go because of its history.

    Like

  27. Thanks Emily. I’m going to turn in a little early but I’ll see everyone sometime tomorrow. I know Michi still has some questions for you. I’ll be in and out as I have a busy day. Nite all.

    Like

  28. Good night, lms. I too am retiring.

    Tomorrow,
    okie

    Like

  29. Test

    All text looks italic to me. It will be difficult to tell what is in quotes for those of us who use italics for quotes.

    Like

  30. Good morning, all! Cold (46–brrrrr!) but sunny here in SLC, so the perfect day to do indoor chores and ask Emily questions. 🙂

    First, though, an off topic but related note, since I’ve been reflecting a lot the last couple of weeks on the impact that one person can have on a large organization: did you guys know that the modern VA medical system traces its roots back to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War? Six weeks before he was assassinated, on March 3, 1865, he signed a bill establishing The National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. And the VA as a whole uses as its motto a phrase from the last sentence in his second inaugural address, “To care for him who should have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.” Reading Suite Harmonic has influenced me to go back and read some of Lincoln’s speeches–I would love to see him and Obama in a “speech-off”!

    OK, first Suite Harmonic question of the day: is Feiba Peveli a real game? I spent the better part of a weekend a couple of months ago trying to deduce the rules behind it and couldn’t figure it out at all (very frustrating! 🙂 ). I see that there is a Feiba Peveli Institute in New Harmony and that an ICWiki stub lists Feiba Peveli as “Community #3” which survived the demise of the original Owenite community for a while, but I couldn’t find any reference to it as a game. I’m dying to know the rules!

    Like

  31. Hi, Michi. Good to see you! OKC currently is 83 and sunny, but expected to get into the mid 90’s today. So I am mostly outside since we may get rain again tomorrow.

    I had never heard of New Harmony. One very fun “side effect” for me from reading Suite Harmonic was also doing some research on New Harmony. Fascinating.

    Like

  32. Yikes, Michi! But here we go on Feiba Peveli. I’ve been hunting around in notebook indexes to try to see what my sources were for Stedman Whitwell’s latitude and longitude scheme and not having much luck. But I found a link that will give you some basic information, though I find some of it pretty incomprehensible: http://bit.ly/ILJZZt. The main source listed is William E. Wilson’s The Angel and the Serpent. I’ve just looked at the Stedman Whitwell pages in that book and it mostly just gives the vowel substitutes and consonant substitutes, which are the same as in the link. But for someone who wants to track this down, the full Whitwell plan is in The New Harmony Gazette for April 12, 1826, which is probably available in archives in Indianapolis and certainly at the WMI in New Harmony.
     
    For people who are wondering what the heck this is all about, Feiba Peveli was one of the communities Robert Owen set up during the 1820’s after he’d purchased New Harmony from the pietist Rappites. It was an utterly confused time, and communities keep forming and disbanding and splitting off. The name Feiba Peveli came from Stedman Whitwell, a Brit who was briefly in New Harmony. Apparently he thought it was confusing to have so many towns named the same thing (Washington, Springfield), and thought it would be sensible to create names based on latitude and longitude so that people who understood the rules of his scheme could read a place name and easily find a town on a map.
     
    As Feiba Peveli existed for a time and the people of New Harmony understood the name came from Whitwell’s scheme, it made sense to me that creating names for various towns and cities based on the Whitwell rules would become a parlor game. I also decided from reading about the world of Achilles Fretageot vs. that of John and Kate Given, that such a game would have been more likely to have been played among Achilles’s set.

    Like

  33. Emily, I’m really enjoying reading about all the background and research for the book. It’s really fascinating how much work goes into it. A gentleman from San Antonio contacted me last year asking about my father because he found a letter from him to his uncle who died in WWII and he was writing a book. We were part of his research. And then I was able to put him in touch with the widow of the radio man on the Enola Gay, after getting her permission first of course, and all of a sudden he had a new wealth of information. It’s a little like solving a mystery.

    Like

  34. Research, when it isn’t just a slog, which it is 99% of the time, can feel like detective work. That’s fun, particularly when there are real breakthroughs.

    I also find it interesting to think about “crowd-sourced” history, and how much can be learned by putting stories together. I had an email from a retired military chaplain who was planning to write a novel about interlocking veterans’ stories. He told me his father’s WWI service consisted of burying soldiers in St. Louis who’d died in the flu pandemic. That linked for me to the story of my Dad’s oldest brother who died of the flu at 18 in a naval barracks in South Carolina, an event that had long reverberations in the family. In doing his research, this chaplain learned that over 50,000 American military men died of that flu, far more than died in WWI combat and numbers that rival fatalities in other wars.

    Like

    • Emily, you are so right about detective work being fun in this context. O/T, but my niece and I are having a great time right now trying to authenticate a clarinet supposedly given to my mother by one of the members of Bob Wills’s Texas Playboys band. If we can authenticate its origin, we plan to loan it to a Bob Wills museum set to open in Tulsa. It turns out my ultra religious mother dated one of the band members before she met my father. Who knew my fanatically religious mother was a band groupie in her youth!!! It’s been a real eye opener for us. Right now we are working on getting access to a diary supposedly kept by another apparent band groupie which details every single band appearance in late 30’s/early 40’s. If the stories are true, my mother is bound to be mentioned in the diary.

      Like

  35. Minor rant here: Kindle makes it incredibly difficult to go back and find the specific place where I made notes to mention to you/ask you about! I’m sure it’s because I’ve never bothered to read the instructions, but at least with a regular book you can dogear the page or something!

    /endrant

    Emily, I love the way you use the English language and your turns of phrase. Your allusion to the “Dunsinane woods” that John and his company walk in to during the battle of Shiloh, and the absolutely elegant “[John had] thought he’d be at least as deaf as Captain Saltzman was from working in his blacksmith shop, except that Captain Saltzman wasn’t deaf now but dead. There’d been that final change of consonant.” Damn, you’re good!

    Have you ever walked any of the Civil War battlefields? During my Officer Advanced Course we studied the Battle of Chickamauga (second highest death toll in the War and most significant Union Army defeat in the western theater) and went to the battlefield to walk it–absolutely an eye-opener for all of us 20th century officers! They packed thousands of men shoulder-to-shoulder and front-to-back on what would now be considered a narrow one-lane road. I get the impression that you either have or have found graphic descriptions of what they looked like, because that was the first thing that came to mind when you were writing about Major Foster’s letter to his father about the retreat at Shiloh, and how he felt it was better to expose his men to the Confederate crossfire rather than risk being trampled to death by their own Army.

    Like

    • Mich:

      Kindle makes it incredibly difficult to go back and find the specific place where I made notes to mention to you/ask you about!

      If you have the original Kindle (ie not Kindle Fire) all you have to do is open the book, then press “menu” and choose “View my notes and marks”.

      Like

  36. I’ve really enjoyed this, not that it’s over. I’d love to do it again but I don’t know any other authors well enough to ask them to participate. Part of what I’ve enjoyed so much is having the girls back together again, not that Mark and ashot weren’t great contributors.

    Anyway, just wanted to thank everyone for participating so far and please continue. Maybe we could read Mark’s son-in-law’s book “I, Judas”, it’s on my kindle already. Btw michi, I agree re the kindle………..but…………it came with instructions?

    Thanks again Emily, you really brought both the Civil War and our little discussion to life.

    Like

  37. I have gone to several battlefields and tried to conjure the armies in my mind. The Major Foster letter was real and appeared in the Evansville paper, just as the book says. It is amazing, that Napoleonic-style warfare. The incident when a shell cuts off several marching legs at the same point comes from an actual battle report, though possibly not the one I used it for. Certainly, brave as the 25th was and tactically brilliant as Col. Morgan was, the blockhouse defense by their remnants against Van Dorn’s 10,000 men could hardly have succeeded without those mass formations. I was fascinated as I made my way through the war to see the changes in warfare–Sherman’s raze and burn tactics, of course, but even more, the change to siege warfare.

    Like

    • I was fascinated as I made my way through the war to see the changes in warfare

      That could be the subplot of another novel. The changes were fantastic. The Spencer, Henry, and Sharps carbines enhanced minie ball long guns for the Union. The Insurrectionists had Maynards. No one else in the world had carbine equipped infantry and cavalry by 1866. The Union had steelclad ships before the end of the war. By the end of the War, the Gatling was a terrifying field weapon, found nowhere but in the Union Army. The railroads, telegraph, and trench warfare, as well as slash-and-burn total war, were precursors to WW I. The Civil War left the USA exhausted, and unknown to itself, militarily the strongest nation on the planet. Grant knew that Europe feared us, however, and his FP initiatives as POTUS reflected that. It seems as if no one gave that much thought again until TR.

      Like

  38. I’ve enjoyed this, too. Thanks to all of you. Most of what I’m doing now is marketing (or attempts at it), which generally falls into the Ugh category so it’s fun to talk about the actual work. I’ll continue to check in over the weekend to see if there are more comments or questions. But I’ll mention a couple of other things here. Awhile ago I posted an article in the Other Work section of my website, http://emilymeier.com, on mercury poisoning in Minimata, Japan. It’s something I wrote about twenty years ago and focuses on the work of W. Eugene Smith, the American photographer, and his Japanese wife. We don’t seem to look at environmental issues as much as we used to, but I thought some of you might find this article interesting.

    The other thing is that, without objection, I plan to post some of your comments and questions in the book groups section of my site. If any of you have ideas for study questions, which book clubs sometimes like, I would welcome those, too.

    Like

  39. Thanks to all who contributed here, and especially to Emily for taking time for us. It has been quite enjoyable. I have especially appreciated the comments on Civil War history. History in general, and particularly history of warfare, is a deficiency in my education. I found this book to be surpassingly well written, so much so that it did not even occur to me that there was not a plot in the conventional sense until I was well into it. But a huge piece of its value for me was the incentive to do some research on the Civil War and New Harmony and learn a few new things. Anybody have a suggestion for an accurate Civil War book that will not take a year to read?

    P.S. to Emily: I am reading your piece on Minimata right now. Thanks for the link.

    Mark, what do you think of lms’s idea of organizing something similar for I, Judas? Would your son-in-law be willing to participate?

    Like

    • I am sure James, who teaches fiction writing, would participate gladly. I think the book is nowhere near as accessible as Harmonic, it being a satire on conventional mythology and a fantastical romp through time. But it is short and well written, and I think I liked it for itself and not for my relationship. My hesitation comes from the split among readers I know between “loved it” and “couldn’t get past the first chapter”.

      Like

  40. Mark, I’m sure you know this, but not only did the instruments of warfare change during the Civil War but there were real differences at the time it was fought in terms of what kinds of weapons were available to different units. This is not something I made a study of except as it pertained to a particular action, but in a place like New Harmony, someone like Robert Dale Owen could try to get more sophisticated weaponry for the local units. In the Achilles Fretageot journals I mentioned, at one point Achilles says that Richard Owen, who was a colonel of one regiment, had heard from RDO, his brother, that he’d secured revolvers and sabers. In another entry, Achilles says RDO had been appointed (probably by the governor of Indiana), to go to England for the purpose of getting arms. A lot was done at the state and local levels in terms of equipping troops. It meant for a real discrepancy.

    One last thing on plot–this is a little inside baseball, but the first part of my answer to the Kathleen Jesme question in the interview section of my site (it’s in On The Second Magician’s Tale) quotes many different writers and their varying ideas about plot. For me as a writer, plot becomes something that’s more organic than contrived. Story can exist without the Aristotelian structure and very often does. But different readers have different preferences and reading is a lot about reading what we prefer. That’s the beauty of it.

    Like

  41. Scott:

    If you have the original Kindle (ie not Kindle Fire) all you have to do is open the book, then press “menu” and choose “View my notes and marks”.

    And why, exactly, was it that you weren’t able to read my mind from 2,000 miles away prior to this and tell me this telepathically???? [muttermuttermutterhowsimplecanitbemuttermuttermutter] Ahem.

    Thanks–that solved the entire problem!

    Like

  42. it being a satire on conventional mythology and a fantastical romp through time

    Sounds right up my alley, actually. Neo-Heinlein.

    Like

    • Sounds good to me, too. (“Neo-Heinlein”??? lol)

      I plan to read it soon anyway, so I’ll let you know if I “couldn’t get past the first chapter.”

      Like

  43. Well, I think that settles it then. Mark, let your S-I-L know we’ll be discussing his book the weekend of June 15th. If that doesn’t work for him let me know. I’ll put up a discussion link on the left on Monday if that’s okay with everyone.

    My cousin is a HS English teacher and an author of sorts and very long winded, maybe we could get him to recommend a book next time from an author he knows and we’ll go from there. We don’t have to have the author here but it does make it more interesting I think.

    Thanks Scott, wish I wasn’t so lazy to explore my kindle more. I just read and download books, somehow I knew there was probably more to it.

    Like

  44. Don’t know if this was what John heard in Memphis, but it would be about the right time and the right feel:

    Johnny Cash’s version

    or Etta James’ version

    and, finally, a version that reminds me of the way I got to sing it in choirs in church while I was living in the South.

    Like

  45. Michi, the second two liinks aren’t working for me, but that’s been a favorite song of mine since I was a child. I didn’t want to nail down a specific song that John heard–let other people imagine for themselves–but I did love linking to a Soweto Gospel Choir hymn on the main Suite page on my site. It felt right.

    Like

  46. Ohhhh–I’ll see if I can get the two links fixed, but I just love Soweto Gospel Choir! The Etta James one is very upbeat and the last link was an amateur video of a choir that was just your basic, gospel, everyone clapping, version of “Swing Low”

    First couple of questions for you for today: (1) Did you ever finish/write Kate’s poem that she didn’t write for the Minerva Society? And (2) (and I haven’t finished the book yet, so feel free to tell me the shut up and read) is Ann Bradley a real person, or did you decide to make her a compilation of different women in New Harmony and present her as Scarlett O’Hara’s northern counterpart? She has that kind of “fiddle dee dee” kind of personality.

    OT: okie, it’s 39 here this morning! This is why none of us here plant gardens before Mothers’ Day.

    Like

  47. Michi, I wanted to first thank you for your enthusiasm for this book.
    It’s felt good. Now for your new questions. All I ever wrote of that poem
    Kate started is the couplet that appears in the book. She was always
    going to write an essay to go along with the real Minerva ones such as
    Lydia Hinckley’s “Appeal to Kentucky.” I just wanted that small bit of
    poem to illustrate her mother’s admonition about using the Valentine
    heart in such a bloody fashion. And, yes, Ann Bradley was real and no
    composite as with the prez’s old girlfriends. I tracked her over years
    through various censuses and other documents such as Francis Cannon’s
    will.

    My son has the John and Kate letters now and he read them after he
    finished the book because he was curious about correlations. He called me
    and said, “Mom, even those friggin’ Valentines are there. And Ann Bradley
    is everywhere.” I was amused at that and at Mark’s reaction to Ann–really wishing
    John had gotten over her already. I also sympathized. As Kate wonders to
    herself at one point, will there always be an Ann Bradley?

    Like

  48. Thank you for writing such a wonderful and engaging book, Emily, and for taking the time to discuss it with us!

    If nobody objects, I’m going to move this post and thread over to the left-hand area in the link dump.

    Like

    • Good idea michi. And thanks from all of us Emily. I can’t wait to read another one of your books. You’re a fantastic writer and I both learned a lot and enjoyed it immensely, which is often rare.

      Like

  49. Thanks a bunch. As I said, I really enjoyed the discussion. I’ll be posting an edited version on my website with topics grouped together.

    And here’s good news–all the other books are much shorter!

    Like

    • Emily, many thanks to you both for the book and for discussing it here.

      I don’t know that “all the other books are much shorter” is actually good news. 😀

      Like

  50. Let me join the chorus of “thank yous”.

    I did see your comment on uneven materiel in the units and I know that was a real big problem. Did you know that when the NG units were called up for duty in Iraq the DOD did not supply them with body armor, b/c the NG was not in the DOD’s budget for body armor? So families bought body armor for their sons and brothers, and probably for daughters and sisters, as well, although I amguessing as to the latter and have knowledge as to the former.

    Like

Be kind, show respect, and all will be right with the world.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: