Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Fever Tree: A Novel by Jennifer McVeigh

The Fever Tree: A Novel.  Jennifer McVeigh. Berkley Trade/Penguin Group (USA). February 2014. 448 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780425264911.

The fever tree is the dry acacia tree, is totally dependent on abundant water in “the Karoo” fields of Kimberley, Africa.  Thorns on its limbs are prolific which is why other animals can’t attack the birds who nest on its branches in layers.  Were that were true for Francine Irvine, who led a privileged life in England and lost it all when her father died and she discovered he was bankrupt from reckless investments in the railroad.  Two choices were her only options – move to Manchester to serve as nursemaid to her cruel Aunt’s numerous children or marry Edwin, the man her father had originally supported as a charity case.  She obviously chose the latter although she had no illusions about being the wife of a man she really didn’t know.

This is the story of a woman who serves as a classic tragic figure.  Her fall from grace involves being seduced by William, a man who works for the most powerful man in Africa.  Francine waits after arrival in Africa and only after one cruel communication travels on to wed Edwin.  Upon arrival she is both surprised and unprepared for his cold reception, including weekly “romance.” 

However, this story is not only a revelation about Francine’s journey to maturity but also a powerful indictment of the treatment of workers and natives in Kimberley, all associated with the insatiably greed of the mine owner Baier.  The cruelties of which Francine hears and sees, as well as the work Edwin accomplishes to attempt to alleviate and eradicate the causes of native suffering are riveting and horrific accounts.  Like Francine, the reader cannot help keep reading, hoping against hope that something dramatic will occur to change the day-to-day ghastly conditions. 

Francine is a quixotic character in a sense, doing absolutely nothing to help herself and still expecting to be served and helped by Edwin and anybody else who comes along.  The change that comes to her naive perspective is dramatic and credible because it is all so real.  Whether or not she and Edwin can survive as a loving married couple remains to be seen and is well worth the pages turned rapidly during the wait.  Can she learn to love Africa as Edwin loves this amazing land?

Thorns are protective devices one must negotiate to earn the shelter and beauty of this beautiful, harsh, cruel and magnificent land of Africa.  Based on a personal experience described after the story, Jennifer McVeigh has crafted a magnificent story that needs to be told and read by those who normally might never know about this “colonial disaster.”  Francine grows up in a highly charged business and political travesty, and Jennifer McVeigh deserves acclimation for the job she has done weaving it into a dramatic adventure of historical fiction! Highly recommended!

The Tyrant's Daughter: A Novel by J. C. Carleson

The Tyrant’s Daughter: A Novel.  J. C. Carleson. Random House Children’s Books. February 2014. 304 pp.  ISBN#: 9780449809976.

Laila is a 14 year-old girl who has lived like royalty and suddenly finds out that her family really isn’t loyalty and never has been.  As a matter of fact, what she discovers about her family makes her literally ill with horror and fear.  For she mourns her father who loved her dearly but she also mourns the man as tyrant and killer who has tortured and killed thousands; at least he is responsible for these acts even if he has not literally carried them out himself in a single-handed way.  The word her friends use about the children’s fairy tales and practices of her father’s rule is “barbaric,” a painful word that sears through her mind and feelings for days and weeks.  How does one cope with her father’s guilt, that which took the lives of families and friends of people she actually knows in America? 

Now Laila is in America.  Several people are interested in her, the man who is attempting to convince her mother to cooperate with CIA interests, the man who doesn’t trust Laila initially but eventually will come to accept her at face value, and a normal American boy who wants to write a journalistic account of her father’s life and her experiences in the nameless country from which she is in exile.  Its these relationships that evolve in dramatic ways that cause her to grow up fast.  Whether the reader thinks this evolution is healthy and good for Laila is left up to his or her imagination!

We learn that her Uncle is now ruling the land Laila once called “home.”  He spends his time frantically calling Lails’s mother.  Over time, Laila experiments with her new life in the United States, dressing like other girls do, dancing, and cultivating friendships that are “normal” for Americans but very, very different from what she knew before.  Meanwhile, she learns the truth about her family’s place of “royalty,” and that changes her forever.  Her choices after that will affect her family and her former country forever!

The author tells us, after the story ends, the seeds that planted this unforgettable story in her head and what she wished the reader to experience throughout the account and afterward.  J. C. Carleson brilliantly succeeds in her quest and the reader may reach his or her own decision regarding same.  This is a must read for American teenagers and adults, a side of life that could be any teenager in the Middle East or America, a side that calls for momentous decisions that could have planned or unforeseen consequences for history.  Superb novel and highly recommended historical fiction or contemporary fiction!