Monday, August 1, 2016

A Perfect Red | Amy Butler Greenfield

Previously I have read Colour: travels through the pain box by Victoria Finlay in which each chapter is dedicated to a short history of the main colours we know today.
I was interested to read A Perfect Red, a more thorough history based on one colour as I found it interesting that  colours have histories very unique to each hue.

Red has  had a checkered past. Pre 1493 it could only be extracted from the madder plant and was quite insipid. The name red was assigned to any hue from light pick to deep burgundy and was highly sought after as it was rare.

With the discovery of the New World the conquistadors encountered the Aztecs and were astonished at the vibrant red they were able to produce from the small bug cochineal. Three hundred years of competition ensued, where the Spanish monopoly in cochineal was attacked by mercenaries, merchants, pirates and royalty.
Europe was taken by storm when guilds began using the small crushed bugs to produce the most vibrant cloth ever to be seen. There was huge secrecy around dyers and their guilds with regard to the use of cochineal on threads and a variety of fabrics. Venetians were famed for their ability to produce rich red velvet.
Laws were enacted to prescribe who could wear red (and other colours) to denote social standing. Colour was a serious business.

Many other fascinating historical facts surround the colour red, and the book is very well researched and written. A great read.

Barkskins | Annie Proulx

It's hard to describe how successful this novel is, given it is a novel about trees, their history and their demise.
Barkskins is Proulx' s latest novel and as with all her others, she is meticulous in her research and in her writing, leaving us with no doubt once again of her enormous talent.

This is a wide sweeping novel which begins in 1600 when Charles Duquet and Rene Sel sail to New France, Canada, in search of better lives. Charles Duke (formerly Duquet) settles into the life of an axe man and soon establishes a huge lumber company. Rene Sel marries a Mi'kmaq woman whose tribe lives in the forests of Canada and are renown as healers and hunters. They are guardians the forest.

The Duke family throughout generations seek out the biggest native forests, buy them and demolish them. Fist in Canada, USA and then Asia and South America. They have total disregard for ecology, environment and the consequences of the devastation they bring.
Meanwhile the Sel family traces it's demise in parallel to the demise of the forest they have lived in for generations and which disappearing. The destiny of both families are intertwined.
The story ends in 2013, with a bit of hope and redemption for both families and hope in the possibility of regenerating some of the forests consumed by the appetite of consumerism.

The Silence of Banventure Arrow | Rita Leganski

Bayou Cymbaline, in the 1950’s, Louisiana: a child is born who makes no sound, but can hear ‘the Universe of Every Single Sound’. Bonaventure Arrow is born into a family holding on to secrets and guilt and he becomes their means of redemption.
Dancy, Bonaventure’s mother is unable to let go of the greif caused by her husband’s untimely, seemly random shooting. Who is The Wanderer, why did he kill William? Dancy cannot move on to love another because she thinks William’s death is her fault.
Letice, William’s mother, is sure the secret sins of her youth are the cause of her son’s murder. She is seeking to put guilt to rest. Dancy’s mother Adelaide Roman is consumed by the Souther quassy -religious mania of the time, hoping to heal and  redeem her grandson and release them from the curse of muteness. Behind it all is William, who from almost Heaven, tries to bring peace to his family and get to know his son.
And then we meet a chorus of Creole characters led by Trinidad Prefontaine who has the gift of Knowing, and is sure her destiny is tied up with the Arrow family’s hope for a better future.
Astoundingly beautiful piece of writing, magical realism which captures the reader right from the first page.