Posts Tagged ‘Craig J. Carrozzi’

Today’s review is for the book: “My Ántonia” (1918©) written by Willa Cather.  This book is considered her first masterpiece.  The book was given to me by Craig Carrozzi, a high school friend / football teammate, who is himself a published author.  I reviewed one of his books (“The Curse of Chief Tenaya“) and he felt this book had a similar “feel” to his work, so he gave it to me when we recently went to lunch. The work is loosely based on Cather’s own experiences growing up on the Nebraska prairie and those of a actual immigrant (Annie Pavelka) who worked as a “hired girl”.
The book revolves around two main characters:  James (Jim) Burton – the books narrator, and Ántonia Shimerda. “Jim” is a recently orphaned boy from Virginia and Ántonia is a slightly older (by four years) girl recently immigrated from Bohemia (currently Czech Republic) with her family as they all start their new lives in a farming town in Nebraska at the end of the 1900’s and through the early 20th century.  The narrator tells the tale of his growing up and his friendship with the “girl next door” and some of the changes they see in the American West.
The book begins with an introduction (narrated by the author) of Burton which (unknown to the reader) provides the framework and conclusion of the main narration – although I did not fully realize this until after the book was finished.  It then reminded me of watching an episode of “Columbo” – a TV detective / police series from the 70’s / 80’s known for starting each episode of the show with the crime and the audience knows who the culprit is so the only question is whether the “bumbling” detective can figure out how the crime was done and who is the guilty party.  Thematically, the author and the narrator meet on a train ride and spend time discussing their shared childhood.  The discussion passes to Ántonia and the author asks the narrator to tell Ántonia’s story because he (Burton) knew Ántonia so much better.  Ultimately, the boy grows up to be a wealthy New York attorney (we are led to believe unhappily married and childless) and Ántonia grows up to be a poor farmer’s wife and mother of almost a dozen kids.  Having written and presented his version of events as instructed, the narrator gives his text to the female passenger who then decides not to write her version.
Post “Introduction”, the book is Burton’s narrated story(ies).  The novel is divided into multiple(5) “books” and each of those broken into multiple chapters of – normally – two to five pages.  My version of the book totals 136 pages, in fairly small print.  The book is a very fast read, but I broke it up over several days because I was enjoying it and wanted to savor the words as much as the story.
So, is this book any good?  Is it insightful or “just” entertaining?  And, of course, do I recommend it?  Yes, this book is good!  It is both insightful AND entertaining.  And, I highly recommend it!
This is not my typical taste in reading.  Although nominally, describing the full lives of two individuals and a few other minor-characters, it doesn’t “really” have a build up and climax.  It just kind of rambles on like the “Great Plains” themselves.  This, in itself is interesting because the book supposedly describes the settling of the American “West”.  In point of fact, this is what we (Americans) now consider the “fly-over” portion of the country – the plains and Mississippi-Missouri river valley separating the Rockies from the Appalachian Mountains.  In any case, the natural beauty of the land is lovingly described in picturesque detail.  As mentioned above, I enjoyed the vivid descriptions so much I slowed down my reading so I could dawdle over and savor the words and sentences.  Every page is used to capture the sights, colors, smells and textures of whatever is being described – from mud holes, to linen sheets, to grains waving in the winds, to snow and ice turning to mush.
Final recommendation:  Very highly recommended!  Living in our current day and age, with all of our modern conveniences, it is near impossible to comprehend how difficult it must have been even just 100 years ago, to come to a new country / state and start (in some cases literally) from a cave dug into the ground and then to go on and make a life for yourself and your family.  It was a bit transfixing to read about this struggle and think for that generation, there was nothing else to do but to get on with it – and they did…
Final Note:  This book is out of copyright and available for free downloading at / from several web sites in several formats.
On This Day In:
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2019 I’m Up For Trying
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2017 My Staggering Confusion
2016 And Bloggers?
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The Curse Of Chief Tenaya”   (2002©)  —   book review
Today’s book review is for a historic fiction novel set in 1800’s.  The author is Craig J. Carrozzi.  It is about an Irish immigrant coming to the United States and making his life through the pre-, actual and post- “Gold Rush” in Northern / Central California.
Full disclosure:  Craig (the author) was a member of the football teams I played on while in high school in San Francisco.  After high school graduation, Craig joined the Peace Corps, returned to San Francisco to get his BA and then subsequently lived a good deal of his life in South America.  Like me, Craig was raised in San Francisco.  He is the author of five published books and numerous articles.  Of his five published books – one is about attending a SF Giants baseball game as a youth;  three are semi-autobiographical fictionalized stories about his time in South America;  and, this book (being reviewed) is about earlier days in Northern California.
The book’s main character is Jeremiah Ignatius McElroy.  He is born in Ireland, starts off as a hard life (potato famine and Yellow Fever), moves to the US (via Canada), travels across the country / continent and ultimately becomes a hunter and tour guide in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  His main geographic expertise is the high-country of Yosemite Valley and it’s “cousin”, the Hetch-Hetchy Valley.  He spends the winters in Oakland, CA with his widowed younger sister and her family.  Jeremiah is hired by a wealthy landowner to track down and destroy a Grizzly bear.
This is basically a “man’s” action book with a couple of interesting twists (interesting to me, anyway).  First, the current day action is interspersed with the growing-up portion of Jeremiah’s life.  The author / publisher uses the “trick” of italicizing the historical narration so the reader can clearly “see” when the author is talking about the past.  The second interesting aspect of the book is an obvious attempt to include “real” famous / historic literary figures in the story.  Hence, Jeremiah reads Ambrose Bierce columns in the daily newspaper;  drinks with Jack London in a bar; and, meets John Muir while up in the hills.
The “action” portion is the life of the growing up, becoming a man and then aging and preparing for old age;  but within the specific confines of the plot, it is the pursuit of a giant Grizzly which has been terrorizing cattle ranches in and around the Hetch-Hetchy area.
So, is this book any good?  Is it realistic in it’s character(s) and / or historic depictions?  Is it entertaining and / or interesting?  And, finally, do I recommend this book?
In short – the answer is YES, to all of these questions.  The book is relatively short (225 pages) and the story is a fast and well paced read.  I read it completely in one sitting and found it hard to put down for my own meals.  (This despite a good deal of delicious sounding meals through-out the book.)
In general, the book seems pretty accurate to very accurate in describing both people and locations.  I must admit, I felt the author let a bit of his own “politics” come into the attitudes and language used in some of the conversations.  One example is when Jeremiah uses the word “deforestation” in an extended dialogue.  I looked the word up.  The word is cited as first used around 1870, so it is possible Jeremiah might know it, but it seems to me, unlikely a hunter / trapper / outdoorsman / tour guide would know the word, let alone use the word.  But, these are very minor flaws in an otherwise well written work.  A brief clarification:  I haven’t spoken with the author in over 50 years, so I really have no idea about his “politics” or if they are reflected in the writing.  It’s just how I felt while reading the book.
And, “the Curse” itself?  Well, it created a “hook” and theme for the book, but I felt it could have been better fleshed out.  I’m not sure why I feel that way or how I might have advised the author to improve the story during development, but it (the “hook”, not the book as a whole) made me feel like I was reading a poor mix of “Dancing With Wolves“, “The Last of the Mohicans” and “The Deer Hunter“.  Very much like those movies, the ending is thought provoking rather than PollyAnn-ish uplifting.  A “Good” or “Bad” ending will then depend on the reader’s individual reaction to the ending.  The “curse” was from the last Native American Chief of the tribe (Chief Tenaya, a non-literary, but “real person” from the period) which lived in the Hetch-Hetchy Valley.  He pledged to haunt those who would despoil the tribes sacred lands (the Valley).
I found the book to be between “hard to put down” and “can’t put down”.  That’s quite a statement from this reviewer.  The descriptions of the skies, mountains, valleys, flowers and animals filled my imagination and reminded me of earlier outdoor travels and adventures from my own youth.
Final recommendation:  Very highly recommended if you are into “masculine” adventure type action stories with a historical setting.  Given I was raised in Northern California, I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of “old world” San Francisco, Oakland and the towns from the Bay Area to Hetch-Hetchy.  If you are prudish, be advised there is some minor sexual content, but I felt it was well within the boundary of character and story development.
Disclaimer:  I purchased this book at normal / sale price (for an old / used book) and no compensation has been provided to me by anyone for my opinions in this review.
On This Day In:
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