Sunday, January 20, 2013

Silk Road by Colin Falconer

Silk Road. Colin Falconer. Atlantic Books (UK). May 2012.  462 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780857891082.

Josseran Sarrazini is a Christian Knight Templar who has a mission to guide a Dominican monk, William, to the far side of the world in what is present-day Beijing. It's the time of the Crusades in the 1500s and there is just as much in-fighting among the Christians as there is against the enemy Muslims who have captured and hold Jerusalem.  The novel begins in Aleppo and covers for years the entire Silk Road from Palestine to Xanadu; not a day passes in which there is not unbridled adventure, murder, passionate challenges and so much more.

Josseran is cynical about his own faith because he is guilty of a great sin, a burden that haunts his days and nights, a darkness the vile monk William senses and never ceases to salt with his sarcastic, scathing words.  For William is the worst of sinners, a man tempted in all ways but externally appearing to be an ascetic who disciplines himself by self-flagellation, a hard thin man whom all dislike because of his mean, vicious, quarrelsome, critical nature.  Josseran finally meets the daughter of a Khan, Khutelun, a spirited warrior who is stronger and braver than any of her brothers, a woman who should have been born a man.  She rides a horse with a wooden saddle for hours without tiring, can shoot an arrow better than most Mongol warriors, and she is chosen to accompany Josseran and William on their journey. Their mission is to forge a union with the highest Khan, to fight together against their common enemy.  But Josseran gradually comes to realize the Mongols have no need of any one's assistance.  What shock then to find that the Great Khan has died and his family is divided as to who should be successor.  Indeed Josseran and Michael might wind up as prisoners rather than emissary friends of whoever is victorious!

All the wonders and life-threatening difficulties of the Silk Road journey are gradually revealed to Josseran as they travel, described with vivid beauty and wonder.  At the same time Josseran is falling in love with his guide, Khutelun, a woman who is destined to marry a prince and perhaps future Khan.  She will save Josseran's life more than once along the way.  William proves to be useful many times although he never stops being a perpetual irritant to all; the reader is surprised that no one eventually tires of his tirades to kill him. 

To say more would be to spoil a truly amazing and wonderful story that manages to stir every emotion and race the heart with tension in realistic ways on multiple pages. Colin Falconer has taken a tale often told and fashioned it into a classic historical novel.  Superb and delightful!!!

Good Night Brian by Steven Manchester

Good Night Brian. Steven Manchester. The Story Plant. January 2013. 308 pp. e-book. ISBN #: 9781611880625.

“Momma” is really Brian Mauretti’s grandmother and Joan is his mother.  They have faced the normal ups and downs of life but now are facing a devastating disease in Brian.  As a baby, Brian had difficulty handling formula and was put on a special formula that turned out to have devastating effects on certain babies.  The product had not been properly tested and not examined by the FDA, with the result that the lack of certain ingredients left children with the inability to speak, walk, and do all the normal things babies grow into with time and love.  

But Momma, an elderly tough grandmother with huge faith, insists that doctors know nothing and one must have faith that Brian will be and do things that the doctors insist are impossible.

The rest of the novel is exciting, tender, gritty, and determined plans set by Momma to make those “hallmarks” of childhood happen, albeit at a different time from other children’s developmental stages.  The reader celebrates every uncertain but strengthening step after step after step.  One wonders where Momma finds the strength to stay on course.  Brian’s siblings, especially Ryan, and cousins are part of the program and are always learning lessons from Mamma about believing and doing the right thing.  It must be said that these lessons are told realistically and without sounding soppy or dogmatic.

Brian’s parents have a harder time believing, and this tale also concerns their painful conflicts and celebrations of each act by Brian that defies the predictions of the medical world.  Their part in the story is so very real and understandable to the reader.  Not everyone has superhuman faith and that’s okay as well in this author’s depiction of this average but unique family.

Although some readers don’t like overly emotional stories, this is an emotional story that conveys mostly grace, dignity, strength and truly unconditional love!  Wonderful fiction written by a great storyteller!