Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Book Review: Chesapeake by James A. Michener

Chesapeake: A Novel Chesapeake: A Novel by James A. Michener

In his fictional history of Chesapeake Bay, James Michener takes you to the top of a large building and lets you watch the pageant of centuries pass like a parade beneath your gaze. Though you can see the details of individuals as they pass, your perspective predisposes you to see the broad sweep of centuries. It is an amazing amalgam of crooks and colonels, priests and pirates, fishermen and floozies, merchants and mechanics with the natural history of Chesapeake Bay providing the backdrop for it all.

I am amazed by the extensive research and detail contained in this epic work (1,083 pages!), yet never do the facts present themselves overtly. Always, they are packaged as part of the intricate web of life woven within the history of three founding families. Their diverse backgrounds and idiosyncracies are destined to intertwine as the generations unfold and the telling is a treat for all armchair adventurers. I closed the book with a profound sense of awe; Michener brought forth a vivid sense of understanding that individuals are both the product of those who have preceded them and the predictor of what lies ahead.

Each person occupies only a small and fleeting role in history, but one life can color the entire sweep of a generation. What if the first English settler had taken the lovely Indian princess as bride, instead of waiting for his proper English wife to arrive by boat some years later? How would the Quaker family line have been affected if the patriarch had capitulated to the pressure to build boats for the purpose of slave trading?

Momentous decisions face every generation, but seldom are the players cognizant of the truth that their decisions are not trivial---they deeply affect posterity. I'm encouraged by my glimpse into the Chesapeake saga because it is ultimately an affirmation that life matters; and by extension--yes MY life matters, too.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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1 comment:

Cimarron said...

Hi Poiema,

Life has interrupted my blogging for a time, but came for a visit tonight and read your blog on Chesapeake by James A. Michener. Incredibly I was only talking about him to my husband the other day. I read Chesapeake when I was 18 and I loved the journey the author took me on. It was fascinating and I am thinking that I may just have to read it again. I'm glad you enjoyed it too.

I am going to visit a secondhand bookstore/coffee shop with some of my writing buddies next week and had decided to keep an eye out for Chesapeake after speaking with my husband...and here I find you have written about it. We must have some things in common.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I totally agree with your views.

cheers for now :o)