When All
The World
Was Young

A Memoir
Barbara Holland
It's all too eerie when we came across a book that we --- you and I --- should have written, a book pieced together by someone who lived through all our world from 1948 or 1951 or 1955. A father made of ice. A neighborhood that we could walk through day or night. Gym classes in Junior High School that all abhorred.

The world of 1950s sweet America was a place where they shipped us off to school at seven or so in the morning and expected us to be back for suppertime and in the meantime didn't worry about where we were or who we were with. Even kids were expected to hitch-hike: as the author points out, during wartime --- a time of gasoline rationing --- "it was patriotic to give rides to strangers."

When All the World Was Young is a book of our times. Not these times, not Theresa Schiavo nor Putin nor Bush I or II nor AIDS. No, the times of those of us who were born seventy or eighty years ago. The funny and wise books from then were gentle and wistful ---The Egg and I, Cheaper by the Dozen, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. When All the World Was Young, by contrast, is wistful ... but not so gentle. Holland tells us that the word "depression" then referred to an economic condition, not dire mental condition where you fell apart in the brain-pan, as it does now, as it did for her.

She lived through those times (and those emotions): the end of the Depression, WWII, the post-war glory of a United States before anyone could pronounce, much less think about, post-traumatic stress syndrome, dystopia, marijuana, alcohol-dependence, Auto-Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Viet-Nam, Iran, Iraq.

She grew up in Washington, D. C. --- her father was a lawyer at the Labor Department --- and she spent many of her summers in Florida. Not far from where I spent the first twenty years of my life.

She remembers the black-outs where, starting at sundown, we hung dark curtains on the windows and doused the lights before going outside. Gas for our cars was rationed --- "A" "B" and "C," all depending on your importance (or your connections.) She remembers (as I do) the white sands of the beach being soaked in crude oil from the tankers sunk by the German submarines, and the signs hung in the schools, at the bus stops, in the train stations: "Loose Lips Can Sink Ships." She remembers reading, always reading, seeking places where she could read all night without being found out ... and then going off to school in the morning and not being able to manage simple algebra or "sociology." Which in those days was concerned with teaching girls how to grow up and make babies and raise families and not even think for a moment of being a professional, seeking a job, working the way that men worked.

She remembers Washington D. C. where she lived most of the time when she wasn't in Florida where you rode your bike out to grandmother's house and they didn't call the police if you were a half-an-hour late. She remembers the "maid" Viola with her network of friends and family working as maids in the same neighborhood, taking care of the things our mothers were too busy to do (in her own case, reading Agatha Christie), the maids making the important decisions about where one could go, when one had to be back, what was to be cooked for supper.

She remembers, too, baseball on the radio, the words "There's a pitch ... and it's low and outside. Ball two," coming from the windows of all the houses down the street, into the next block. And the Washington Senators always losing. "Any fool can be a Yankees' fan. It takes talent to be a Senators' fan," said her mother, in a rare burst of amiability.

She remembers her first friend --- a girl as daft as she thought herself to be --- and she remembers her first abortion, where she and a dozen or so other young women were blindfolded and taken over to Virginia and operated on at midnight and those who want to overturn Roe might have a chance to read this and think about the good old days when abortions were not only illegal, but a sin ... a very dangerous sin.

The only way that I can figure that Barbara Holland is different than you and I and all of us who grew up in The America Middle Class of that period is that she did all the things we did, felt all the things we did --- but she, unlike most of the rest of us, knows how to gather it all up and put the entire gestalt into a wonderful book and send it out to us, for us to remember those sweet sad days. She writes in a simple way, but with a touch of gentle art. And I here define "art" as something that has been distilled down from common awful wonderful experience, purified into words and feelings that are common to those of us who have been there too; and perhaps, for those who haven't.

It's so right and yet so simple that you want to call someone on the telephone (perhaps her) to say how great it was --- the book, that is --- and how wonderful it is, thank god, that we don't have to do it all over again.

--- Leslie W. Parker

In Search of
Maya Sea Traders

Heather McKillop
(Texas A&M)
Heather McKillip is nuts about the Mayans, their lives, their artifacts, their culture, and their history. Starting twenty years ago, she turned up in Port Honduras, Belize --- specifically to Wild Cane Cay --- to study the trading patterns of the Mayas of the Preclassic, Classic, and Postclassic periods.

It sounds like a bit of paradise to take off for some island off the coast of Central America to do digs, hang out with the people who live there and eat fish and crab, camp out for a few months. But...

...but think about the hurricanes, the scary drug-trade going on in the Bedford Cays near by, the fact that McKillop is a woman in a macho society. Think of the sting rays, crocodiles, killer bees, and the flies. The sandflies. Oh, the sandflies. They will eat you alive, cover the mosquito netting, turning it black.

Those of us who have gone to Belize would (mostly) rather be someplace else. Those who live there cannot forget the wars of the last century where the English virtually stole it from Guatemala. Nor can we forget the drugs and the the street violence --- all gifts of a violent history at the hands of the gringos. The past, and economics of the very poor, have turned Belize City into an armed camp. Since they speak English it is preferred territory for those who want to do their heroin-and-guns business in English.

§     §     §

Dr. McKillop is a professional. She knows exactly what she is looking for, and she knows the scientific method. As soon as she arrived, she surveyed Wild Cane Cay, cut it into six "sampling areas for excavation." Each dig was determined randomly.

Since the water table was high, some of her artifacts were literally pulled from the sea. In fact, she offers the opinion that hers was perhaps one of the first underwater excavations in the history of archeology.

She is strict with her workers (and the added volunteers from Earthwatch) ... making sure they don't move any pottery shards, bones, and obsidian blades, but merely list and categorize size, type and locale in order to make their studies professional.

This book might be heavy going for those who aren't enamored of archaeology. Still, the narratives of interaction with the locals is fascinating. Especially as she is telling the disbelieving Mayans something they never thought about: their own grandparents, their own great heritage, their own astounding culture.

--- Donald O. Stover, MA

The Missing Head of
Damasceno Monteiro

Antonio Tabucchi
J. C. Patrick, Translator

(New Directions)
There is a Portuguese lawyer in The Missing Head with the name "Loton." He is named "Loton" because he looks like Charles Laughton, and that is the way you would pronounce "Loton" if you lived in Oporto, Portugal. He is obese, slow moving, with fat lips, given to a mysterious philosophy having to do with reality, and time.

Loton appears on the scene because a lawyer is needed. A friend of a young man has gotten into the drug scene over his head. To compensate the friend for his troubles, the drug lords have taken his head, dumped it in the river, left his body behind. The body is discovered by a tumescent gypsy. The head by an "eighty-year-old boatman, a fisherman of corpses and suicides in the Douro River."

The murder, the reporter sent to Oporto to investigate, the methodology of the drug operation (heroin shipped to Portugal from China in vast containers of fake Italian marble) are all interesting to the reader, even funny .... but then the author makes the mistake of letting this lawyer Loton in on the scene, and as attorneys often do, he manages to highjack the whole novel. The story falls to pieces like the shattered pieces of good fake Italian marble. Because, being so plump and tired, he can scarcely indulge in any action. What do we get in its place? Philosophy. Philosophy!

For instance, that the universe of man is made up solely of binaries. Or that Louis Colet, a lover of Gustav Flaubert, wrote a poem that asked, "What do we do with our past loves ... push them away in a drawer along with our socks full of holes?"

Or: Hölderlin writing that "there might be people who are waiting for letters from the past ... letters which give us an explanation of a time in our life which we have never understood, an explanation whatever it might be that enables us to grasp the meaning of the years gone by, a meaning that eluded us then..."

Or, in one of the few quotable lines in the book, a time, "a certain time in the universe when time came into existence."

It was a good novel to begin with, a mystery that begins with the gypsy in Oporto going out to pee on an oak tree and discovering a headless corpse. Then comes the reporter from a Lisbon scandal sheet. His name is Firmino. He is diligent, but, like our lawyer, he has a certain obsession with a certain Lukás and "the principal of reality" and the great Italian writer Elio Vittotini. Thus he and the author (and the reader) get waylaid by this fat Loton, and the plot goes to pieces, and I abandoned it, alas, on page 133.

So should you. Or perhaps, before: before time itself is discovered.

--- Lolita Lark

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