Review: A Lantern In Her Hand

Book Review: A Lantern in her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich

I am a member of a delightful facebook group that discusses all things quality books and literature. My “to-be-read” list grew and grew after joining the group, but that is a delightful problem to have.

In a thread about books that have a “strong sense of place,” I came across A Lantern In her Hand. This novel centers around a young girl, Abby Deal, who sets aside a dream of becoming a singer, and forges ahead into pioneer life in Nebraska in the mid-1800s. Her life is one of adversity and hardship,  as is typical  in pioneer novel.  Yet this book stands apart from others because of its long view of Abby’s life, and particularly on her journey of motherhood.

Aldrich’s eloquent writing draws you into Abby’s struggles with knowing which path to follow, and how to raise her children in the wilderness. There is a lovely scene where she insists her children, read Shakespeare aloud, lest they lose touch with her own European culture and education. She makes friends with the fellow pioneers, and develops a touching and life-giving relationship with the  German neighbor who can barely speak English,  yet will prove to be lifelong and fundamental friend.

She and her husband build a house, slowly a town, and then a life for their growing family, and we are given a glimpse into the next two generations. Her grandchildren take for granted that their town is a part of Nebraska, yet Abby remembers the path and hardworking that made the town’s founding possible. She reflects on the importance of tradition and the act of remembering, while allowing her children to grow up with freedom and independence from the old world. Her sacrifices are deep, yet the novel is not navel-gazing or overly sentimental.

I have always loved books that have a captivating lead character and a strong sense of home and place. This books ranks high as one of the best books I read in 2019, and probably in the years since I became a mother (right after Hannah Coulter– review to come.)

Review: A Handful of Dust

I picked up with book based on a recommendation of a friend, and the fact that it was actually available at my library for immediate checkout during the COVID lockdown(1.0) Written in 1934 by Evelyn Waugh, I was intrigued, as I had only read his most famous “Brideshead Revisted.”

I had absolutely no idea what to expect; I approached the book expecting it to be akin to an Austen or Dickens. Nothing prepared me for the sarcastic and satirical novel that it is.

Without revealing too much, it is about the on-goings of several shallow, decadent post-WWI young adults in England. It gives a short glimpse into lives of Tony Last and his wife, who I liked immediately, the annoying and droopy John Boever, and a funny range of other miscellaneous characters in their London society.

As the plot continued to spiral into absurdity after absurdity, I emailed my friend “What is happening in this book?! Why am I bothering with it?” She laughed, as she knew Waugh was known for his satire and off-handed way of showing just how empty and trivial life could be in the post-war(1) era. I continued on and wanted to throw the book across the room most of the time, yet the writing was so good and the ending was hilarious. Tony spends the rest of his days reading Dickens aloud to a crazy man in South America. (I’m not the biggest Dickens fan…because I just haven’t given it enough time.) so the thought of reading it aloud for the read of my life is a level of torture that is fitting for this novel.

If you need a light read, yet want more substance than most current best-sellers, I’d recommend “A Handful of Dust.”