Sagas in Summer
The TALE: Tehachapi Art, Literature and Entertainment
July 9, 2022
I like the way sagas were written in the olden days. Not needing to buy three or six or nine books to finish a series, the original saga came in one large heavy book. It could have over 600 pages, maybe up to 1,000. A book so heavy your hand cramps when holding it. A book so enthralling that you read hours at a time without caring. The world went by unnoticed with a pitcher of iced tea on a side table, while lying in a hammock or stretched out on a comfy lounge chair. My goodness, those were the best summer days!
“The Thornbirds” by Colleen McCullough was published in the summer of 1979, with 692 pages of gripping drama. An Irish family inherits a ranch and immigrates to the Australian Outback. In a family of five brothers the youngest, Meggie, faces momentous life challenges, including her love of Father Ralph who is 29 years her senior. In its time, the subject matter was riveting. Today it is no less.
But as much as sagas could be relished in a slower paced 1979, in our now busier world that moves a mile a minute, publishers who choose to offer sagas instead of series have whittled them down to three or four hundred pages of drama, heartache, love and victories. One such novel is “Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter” by Lizzie Pook. Published June 14, 2022 it tells the story of the pearl industry in Australia’s west Kimberley Coast. It is a 19th century historical accounting of a family in the pearler trade and a daughter trying to find her missing father. The danger of pearling is meticulous in detail, British colonialism brutal at times, and young Eliza Brightwell a breath of fresh air as a 20 year old woman before her time. She reminds me a bit of the independent Phryne in the Australian “Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries.” “Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter” delivers both pearls and wisdom.
“Woman of Light” by Kali Farjardo-Anstine is a saga that is told from the starting point of 1933, dipping back to the past where a family begins its journey in the Lost Territory of 1868. It moves from the arroyos of Southern Colorado, to Northern New Mexico and finally circling back to Denver, 65 years later. Luz Lopez has the “gift.” In Denver she reads tea leaves along with receiving sudden visions and nighttime dreams. She pieces together her family history where ancestors walked, faced trials and tribulations, while revealing both strengths and weaknesses. The author brings the reader back and forth as the saga builds.
It begins when the great grandmother Desiderya Lopez finds an abandoned baby and raises it as her own. She was known as the Sleepy Prophet, going into a trance, then waking to tell what she had seen. She sees this adopted son Piedre growing into both a storyteller and man of great strength who leaves the Lost Territory for the white man’s world. The words of the author are like magic, creating pictures that brighten and fade, bursting into fragments with injustice, then picked up again to weave one story after another of the human spirit within a myriad of peoples. Indigenous, Black, Spanish, Greek and Mexicans all called the southwest their home for generations. The frontier was a different place before settlers traveled the Oregon Trail. After their arrival things changed. Lives changed. And Kali Farjardo-Anstine tells the saga.
If you can get your hands on a 1972 publication of “Maria” by Maria von Trapp, you can hear the full story from the woman who lived “The Sound of Music.” It started before 1938. Maria was a governess, was married in the Abbey, and the Captain really did use a whistle to call his nine children with a different note for each one. But he was neither strict nor detached. The family sang with abandon everywhere. They did flee, but only by getting on a train and ending up in Italy. Then eventually the United States in Maine. I met Maria von Trapp one year while she was promoting her book at a bookseller’s convention. She stood shyly at her table dressed in traditional Austrian clothes wearing an apron with a white kerchief tied on her head. We smiled. She signed my book. Her saga was more than a movie, but rather a life that I could see written on her face and deep within her eyes, and I felt so fortunate to meet her and then read about the extra layers she lived.
We are all in the midst of our own sagas. Life stretches from births to deaths, traveling long distances or short. Full of everyday chores and the occasional precious gift of pure joy. When we dip into another’s saga, it tends to make us aware of our own. You might want to start a memoir for your family to read in 60 years or so. Sometimes it helps to know where we have been to see clearly where we are going!
Good books. Good reading.
*Midge Lyn’dee is a fictional character used for the purpose of entertainment though the reviews are real and sincere.