In the Heart of Life: A Memoir – Bonus Post

This blogger skimmed “In the Heart of Life: A Memoir” by Kathy Eldon, published in 2013. This repetitive ebook begins engagingly enough, but turns into a catharsis for the author.

Eldon grew up in a Methodist household in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She writes, “Sometimes I think my entire family went deaf in the 1950s, when we weren’t allowed to discuss anything unpleasant in polite company. Nor, for that matter, were we allowed to argue, swear, or even cry in our household, not to mention say anything that might disrupt the perception that ours was a perfect home.”

A graduate of Wellesley in 1968, the author came of age in a generation of women who were expected to take up fabulous careers. The following year, she married and moved to London, and later had a son and a daughter. Her husband’s job took the family to Nairobi, Kenya.

The author tried to start a career but found that Kenya was stingy when it came to issuing work permits to expatriate wives. She soon got bored of the “…bridge parties, Swahili classes and tennis dates” in which other similarly situated individuals participated. Fortunately, she soon met some high-spirited, fiercely independent people.

Sadly, two major parts of Eldon’s story become a very detailed pity party; the first part– marital anguish– is similar to other females’ stories such as “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing” (the book by Suyin Han), “Bridges of Madison County” by Robert James Waller and “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. The second part is truly a more traumatic occurrence, but her endless description of her reaction to it still becomes quite tedious.

Perhaps the author appears to be so self-absorbed to this blogger because she rambles on and on through a large part of the book about the aftermath of the incident. She admits that her awareness that her own and another person’s behaviors before the fact, are hurtful and/or life-threatening and worrisome to others, but the selfish behaviors continue, anyway. During the healing process, she overcomes her skepticism of psychics.

After the tragedy, the author helps to create a press conference of her own and the media’s self-importance at which famous newscasters, such as Dan Rather “implored the audience to be aware of the individuals who risk their lives every day to bring us the truth.” This blogger thinks this is a self-evident message, especially in war zones (and has its exceptions). Eldon writes that by the late 1990’s(!), increased awareness of this issue prompted press outlets to provide certain correspondents with life insurance and to recognize post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by news personnel.

Nevertheless, the first half of the book is suspenseful. The author deserves credit for revealing embarrassing, even shameful details about her past.

Read the book to learn what the author and her daughter do in their attempt to get some closure with respect to their pain.

Roses Under the Miombo Trees

The Book of the Week is “Roses Under the Miombo Trees” by Amanda Parkyn, published in 2012.  This is a four-year chronicle of a family in Rhodesia in the early 1960’s. The country at the time was comprised of three territories, one of which later became the country of Malawi.

When she was in her early twenties, the author, an Englishwoman, married a Rhodesian. They, as light-skinned people, had all the creature-comforts a former British colony had to offer: tennis, golf, bridge, swimming, and yachting. However, technology in entertainment and telecommunications was behind that of the United States. Few people had television in rural areas, and telephone calls still had to be made with the help of a live operator. One of their neighbors had a tennis court made of dead anthills, that had been shaped with water and sun-dried.

The author describes their social life and how it changed as her husband was transferred to different territories in connection with his employment; the birth of their two children, her love of gardening and the job performance of the household’s dark-skinned domestic servant.

Read the book to learn the details of the ups and downs of the family’s life, in their specific time and place.

Memories Before and After The Sound of Music

The Book of the Week is “Memories Before and After The Sound of Music” by Agathe von Trapp, published in 2002. This ebook describes the real lives of the members of the family depicted in the legendary movie and musical “The Sound of Music.” The shows were Hollywoodized versions meant to appeal to American audiences.

Agathe, born in 1913, was the second-oldest child, and oldest daughter of an Austrian family of seven children by the first wife of a WWI commander of a submarine in the Austrian navy. The wealthy, farm-owning family had ties to royalty, and so had plenty of household help. Nevertheless, the family encountered some hardships during the political, financial and social upheavals of the first half of the twentieth century.

The author tries to set the reader straight on her family history. For example, she writes, “… we did not flee over the mountains into Switzerland. There is no mountain pass that leads from Salzburg, Austria into Switzerland. We simply took the train to Italy.”

A nanny taught Agathe and her siblings German and English. They found low-tech ways to amuse themselves. “…We used our imaginations to turn a row of chairs into an express train and a sofa into a hospital.”

They enjoyed natural wonders during their daily walks. They visited relatives, such as their maternal grandmother, Gromi, who had a spacious garden along the lakeshore. Agathe took an interest in beekeeping, mentored by the headmaster of the local elementary school, on “how to catch a swarm and how to extract honey.” He provided her with the necessary equipment, including bee hood, gloves and smoker. She harvested twelve pounds of honey a few months later.

Agathe played the guitar, while her father and siblings played the violin and accordion. They formed an amateur Schrammel Quartet; if it had been professional, it would have played Viennese folk music in “… little restaurants in Grinzing, a suburb of Vienna, during the time of harvest when the new wine is served.”

The von Trapps became a famous traveling singing group by chance. In the 1930’s, they were encouraged to enter a yodeling competition, and they won. Then came singing on the radio. Austria’s chancellor just happened to be a regular listener of the show they appeared on, and the rest is history. The “Trapp Family Singers” sang in concerts all over the world into the early 1950’s.

Read the book to learn of the von Trapp family’s adventures through the years, among them– how most of the family members lost their Austrian citizenship but were automatically granted Italian citizenship, how they stayed alive even after refusing to comply with specific Nazi orders, and what led the family to start a lodging business and music camp.

Venus Envy

The Book of the Week is “Venus Envy” by L. Jon Wertheim, published in 2002. This book describes the colorful characters that graced women’s professional tennis in 1999, 2000 and 2001.  Those included the Williams sisters, Hingis, Davenport, Pierce, Capriati, Kournikova, Sanchez-Vicario and others.

Most tennis players who become professionals are pressured by a parent to make playing a career. Venus and Serena Williams’ father Richard filled that role. He had the promotional instincts of Don King. In the mid-1990’s, when his older daughter had just turned pro at the young age of fourteen, he predicted that both his daughters would play each other in Grand Slam finals. Most people thought, “This wasn’t a tennis father from hell. This was a tennis father from outer space.” He knew what he was talking about. Not only did he guide them to success, but did so without making them crazy, unlike so many other tennis parents who cause their kids psychological harm.

Tennis is a typical professional sport in that making money is the major goal. Tennis’ authoritative bodies that hold global tournaments, have a history of awarding less prize money to the women than to the men. The purported reason is that the women are less entertaining. This led to an interesting course of events in the early 1970’s.

The women also get treated differently at post-tournament press conferences, at which they are asked personal questions that men would never be asked. Another cause for complaints from the women is that the quirky ranking system awards more money to some players who have more entertainment value than playing ability. The system “unfairly punishes older, less attractive players.”

Read the book to learn more about why women’s tennis is the “world’s most popular and financially successful women’s sport.”

The Man Time Forgot

The Book of the Week is “The Man Time Forgot” by Isaiah Wilner, published in 2007.  This ebook tells the history of Time magazine, and contains the biographies of its two original business partners. According to this account, Brit Hadden alone came up with the concept for the magazine, and partnered with Henry Luce to create the publishing company for it.

The concept was to cobble together days-old stories from all the news outlets and retell them in a sassy way, intended to provoke controversy. Hadden believed “Controversy is unrest, and unrest breathes the spirit of progress.” In the mid-1920’s, one could get away with reprinting articles without crediting his sources.

In the nineteen teens, Luce and Hadden had developed a contentious but complementary relationship at the elitist Hotchkiss, a private boarding school in Connecticut, and then continued their teamwork on academic publications at Yale college. There, they competed in a rigorous contest whose prizes consisted of opportunities to work on the school newspaper. They both made the cut.

During WWI, the president of the college allowed academic credit to be given for military courses. In fact, the school became largely a military training ground in the war years. Hadden and Luce availed themselves of training but stayed stateside, although in 1918, President Wilson lowered the age of conscription to 18.

Postwar, consumerism abounded. “As households bought their first automobiles, washing machines and phonographs, companies plastered the streets with billboards.” The public spent its leisure time partaking of magazines, newspapers, books, movies and radio. Sensationalism had become big business.

More and more American residents were able to experience common entertainment. This was advantageous for the ad sales success of Time. When the magazine met its “rate base”– a minimum number of magazines being circulated among the public– it was able to charge more money to its advertisers. Direct mail was a budding advertising outlet for the magazine itself, of which it took full advantage. By the early 1920’s, Time had tens of thousands of readers.

It took several years for Hadden to convince the Post Office to classify Time as a newspaper, affording the national publication faster delivery from its sole office in New York City.

Letters to the editor (some were fictional, concoted by Hadden) was a favorite section of the magazine. The author contends that “Time remained the place to hear the full-throated call of the average American moron, expressing his prejudices with confidence and joy. Subscribers enjoyed reading such letters…”

Sadly, Hadden’s poor health resulted in his untimely death. Until he himself died, Luce was extremely reluctant to concede that Time was Hadden’s idea, and released propaganda making himself and Hadden co-founders. He failed to credit Hadden as the magazine’s true sole creator. Such deception boosted his ego and brought him undeserved honors. Such can be the nature of publishing and public relations.

To the Heart of the Nile

The Book of the Week is “To the Heart of the Nile” by Pat Shipman, published in 2004. In the 1840’s, when a little girl, later named Florence, was orphaned by revolution in the land that is now Hungary, she was sent to live in a harem.

By a strange twist of fate, Florence, with an Englishman, Sam, (with a retinue of servants) ended up going on expeditions in what is now Egypt and the Sudan to find the sources of the Nile, and stop the slave trade. They “made detailed observations on the climate, the terrain, the people, the animals and the plants,” all the while braving disease, near-starvation and tribal warfare. That last life-threatening condition required delicate negotiations with a tribal chief.

On one occasion, Sam gamed the situation correctly. He boldly “ordered his headman to raise the Union Jack… Sam asked these delegates [officials of the enemy tribes] how they dared to invade a country [the Sudan] under the protection of the British flag.” They obeyed his order to evacuate the area. The tribal chief who was allied with Sam “was awestruck by the power of Sam’s magical flag and… rewarded Sam with huge quantities of [smuggled] ivory.”

Sam refused to accept the ivory, as he was disinclined to tarnish his reputation with criminal and morally reprehensible pursuits.  He was more interested in exploration and annexing the Sudan for the United Kingdom.

Read the book to the learn the outcomes of Sam’s and Florence’s adventures.