BackRedo

After being out of print for several years, Minnesota author Susanne Schuler’s memoir of growing up on a family resort in the wilds of NE Minnesota (Ely/Babbitt) is once again available here or at your favorite online or bricks and mortar bookstores. Click on  the “Books” tab and read the reviews.  You can find out more about Susanne under the “Authors” tab. A great summer read.

Peace.

Mark

SukuRedo

 

On Tuesday, 7/22/2014 at 7:00pm, I will be a featured guest on Write On! Radio on KFAI. Award winning novelist Julie Kramer will interview me and I will read from Sukulaiset: The Kindred in hopes of getting folks interested in my latest novel. You can tune in live at 90.3 (Mpls.) and 106.7 (St. Paul) on Tuesday or via the web at:

http://kfai.org/writeonradio.

Hope it goes and well and hope all my fans, friends, and family tune in!

Peace.

Mark

Gov. Rudy Perpick, the author, and Rep. Willard Munger at the dedication of the Munger Trail

Gov. Rudy Perpich, the author, and Rep. Willard Munger at the dedication of the Munger Trail

 

The first time I read John Myers’ recent article about the restoration of the St. Louis River (“St. Louis River touted as a better place to be”, DNT 07/05/2014), I was a bit miffed at John. Why? Well, throughout all of the discussion and information contained in the article, there was nary a word as to how the St. Louis River was restored from an open sewer and industrial waste sluice to a productive fishery and recreational draw. I faulted John, one of the last DNT veterans who covered the career of State Representative Willard Munger (yes, he’s related: he’s my uncle), for not calling attention to the history behind the river’s resurgence. But then, after a second read, I realized that John was highlighting what was taking place across the bay, in Superior, Wisconsin, as opposed to in my hometown of Duluth. Still, for today’s readers and young folks to understand the success story of the river, there needs to be some perspective.

My uncle came to Duluth in 1935. Not too long after settling into West Duluth, Willard (who’d grown up fishing the pristine lakes and rivers of Otter Tail County in northwestern Minnesota) discovered the ugly truth about the St. Louis River flowing murkily right out his back door: the St. Louis was an environmental disaster. Human feces from the various municipalities along the river’s banks, coupled with six or seven decades of industrial degradation, had left the waterway an infectious, nauseous, open sewer; a place no child dared swim in and a place from which no adult dared keep a fish. The sturgeons were gone. The walleye were putrid. And muskies? They didn’t exist. Being a life-long political activist, Willard began working with the United Northern Sportsman in the 1940s on two issues: keeping Reserve Mining from gaining a permit to dump taconite waste in Lake Superior and cleaning up the St. Louis River. He and his conservation colleagues (mostly men who loved to hunt and fish) failed in their first task. The second goal, the river’s return to health, took nearly fifty years of hard, dedicated, devoted work to achieve.

Willard ran for elected office in 1952. His primary campaign promise was to stop the pollution of the river. He lost. In 1954, he ran again but his environmental fervor was concealed behind other issues in recognition that folks wanted to hear about economic issues rather than the cleaning up of an estuary. But after he won a seat in the Minnesota House and took office in 1955, Willard immediately set in motion legislative policies that ultimately created the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (the WLSSD) which, when it came on line in 1974 to treat municipal and industrial waste, immediately began to make a difference in the health of the river. Think of the patience that effort required! Willard started his legislative push to build the WLSSD in 1955 but it took nearly twenty years for his idea, the use of regional sewage treatment centers situated along the major rivers of the state, to come to fruition. Rep. Munger would be quick, if he was still here (he passed away on July 11, 1999) to point out that he had plenty of help from folks along the way, that the clean-up of the St. Louis River was not the work of one man but a process involving sportsmen and women, service groups, labor unions, conservation and environmental organizations, and civic and industrial leaders. Over the fifty years Willard Munger worked to better the water quality of the St. Louis River, he forged a coalition of folks who today might not even be able to break bread due to their political differences. But he was a stubborn man, a man with a dedicated heart, to whom the work was more important than anything else, including the ideology of those he enlisted in his cause.

Today, on both the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the great river that is the birthplace of the Great Lakes, people can swim and fish and canoe and boat on a river that, while not perfect, is one hell of a lot cleaner and more useable than it was when Willard Munger wandered into town. A labor leader once called Rep. Munger “an extraordinary, ordinary Minnesotan.” Indeed. Maybe some young person reading this short essay about how the St. Louis River came to be restored to a place of renewed beauty (and the focus of Duluth Mayor Don Ness’s recent promotional efforts) will be inspired to become a public servant with the heart and stubborn resolve of Willard Munger.

One can only hope.

Mark

 Mark  is a life-long Duluthian, a District Court Judge, and the author of Mr. Environment: The Willard Munger Story, available in bookstores, online, and above under “Books”. An edited version of this essay first appeared in the Duluth News Tribune.

 

 

 

PostVille

Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America by Stephen G. Bloom (2000. Harcourt. ISBN 9780156013369)

My mom loaned this book to me because:

1. Though a life-long Episcopalian, she is fascinated by Judaism;

2. She thinks I need to read more (I read about a book a week and “more” is likely an impossible objective); and

3. She knows I am a seeker.

Well, I have to say, though I won’t rave about Postville as many critics did when it was released over a decade ago, I will agree with Henry Kisor of MSNBC who wrote that author Bloom “treats both sides with affection…” Bloom, a secular Jew who had little experience or knowledge of Lubavitcher Judaism, tries to explain the religious gap between the predominantly Lutheran residents of tiny Postville, Iowa (population 1,465), his own tepid faith, and the rigorous, misogynistic, self-centered, and mysterious Hasidic Jews who land in Postville to reopen an abandoned meat processing plant. The success of the Lubavitchers and their commerce is good for main street Postville, bringing jobs and prosperity to a stagnant farm economy hit hard by the Carter years. Bloom, entranced by the sociological experiment inherent in the influx of stringently holy and standoffish New York Jews into a predominantly Christian community, uses his position as a journalism professor at the University of Iowa to interview Postville natives and the invading Lubavitcher clan with an eye to weaving their stories into a cogent, cohesive narrative. In this task, he succeeds.

One can’t help but come away from reading Postville with a sense of transcendent sadness and guilt. The Jewish faith, more than any other branch of monotheism, has endured the greatest purges, horrors, suffering, and discrimination mankind is capable of unleashing. And yet, through it all, the faithful and the fallen alike who identify themselves either religiously or culturally as Jews have managed to survive. It is the otherness of being a Jew, even a nonpracticing Jew like Doc Wolf (a local physician profiled in the book who delivered thousands of Postville-area babies without a single complaint being raised by expectant mothers as to his lack of Christian belief) that Bloom explores when attempting to make inroads into the tightly knit family and social structure of the Lubavitchers. The story hangs together on the twin threads of the Hasidim’s “otherness” defined by their defiance against assimilation (they are the Jews who wear the black clothing, the long ornate beards, and who do not intermingle with gentiles as depicted in New York street scenes in movies) and Bloom’s own sense of “otherness” as a nonpracticing Jew, married to a Jew, trying to raise a son in northeastern Iowa amongst well meaning yet condescending Christians.

The main plot device that the author uses to investigate Postville’s timid acceptance of a kosher meat plant operating just outside the reach of city officials is the city’s attempt to annex the land beneath the plant to gain control over the operation and to profit from assessing city taxes against what had once been an empty building and was coaxed into the economic driving force of the region by the hardline commerce of the Hasidim running the plant. Threats by the Lubavitchers to pack up and leave if the vote for annexation passes do little to strike fear in the residents of the town, though Bloom does explore and explain the divide that the vote caused within the Christian community: the merchants were generally against the plan because they fear the plant will close, taking with it millions of dollars spent in the local economy, while the majority of the gentiles seem bent on exercising municipal power over the non-compliant Jews next door. In the end, its not so much how the vote turned out as the debate and discussion between the factions that makes the plot device integral to the theme of the book, the fact that even within the seemingly unified Christian natives of the area, schisms erupt that lead to hard feelings amongst folks who have been grounded in the soil for generations.

Politics aside, the personal journey of Stephen Bloom, his reaction to the rituals and rules and confines of Hasidic Judaism as practiced in Postville, is the heart and soul of this lively, well written exploration of a little known experiment in social isolation and defiance that, so far as I am aware, continues to play out in Postville to this very day.

4 and 1/2 stars out of 5.

 

The Munger field in full bloom.

The Munger field in full bloom.

I should be out weeding the vegetable garden or picking Russian berries.

It’s five o’clock in the morning. I have the day off from my job as a judge and I am still up, sipping coffee, pondering my “to do” list, way too early for anyone with a modicum of sanity to their name. I’m sitting here, at my iMac, working on Facebook posts, emails, and other tasks all related to the forthcoming release of my latest self-published novel, Sukulaiset: The Kindred. As I type, a small hawk (I don’t know what kind) swoops over the yellow, white, orange, and red flowers of the hayfield surrounding my place on the Cloquet River. The raptor searches for mice and voles and shrews and assorted rodents as it sets its wings and glides only a few feet above beauty. My wife remains tucked into the cozy warmth of our marital bed upstairs, oblivious to my departure or my commerce or the gliding hawk. A rooster at the Holte farm across the river crows. Red wing blackbirds call each other before meeting at the bird feeders in our backyard for breakfast. A mourning dove coos as it joins the smaller blackbirds for a meal of sunflower seeds and millet.

After a long day at work involving angry folks unhappy with my decisions from the bench and the circumstances that brought them to court, I came home last evening and tilled the vegetable garden and finished up with the mowing and the trimming in anticipation of Rene’s sister and brother-in-law and their two kids coming to visit for the 4th. We used to gather at Rene’s brother’s place for this holiday. We ate too much, talked too loud, argued about politics some, watched fireworks over Island Lake, and fought off bugs for the better part of 25 years. But Greg no longer sponsors an annual picnic so the last two years we’ve invited the Schostags and other family members to share the beauty of our farm for Independence Day. Anyway, the mowing and the tilling and the trimming did a number on my neck, shoulder, and low back. I ended the evening watching West Wing on DVD with an ice pack and Tylenol for comfort. The mosquitoes, ubiquitous and obnoxious after all the rain we’ve had, made me give up any notion of weeding the garden or harvesting berries.

Maybe Sunday.

KUMD plays in the background as I catch up on emails to the Bookstore at Fitger’s and other vendors and folks who will be promoting the sale of my latest attempt at Grisham-like fame. My kids, of course, have it right.

“Why don’t you write something folks want to read like Krueger or Patterson, or Flynn, or Grisham?”

Mmm. I thought I had.

Anyway, the sky is devoid of clouds. Songbirds chirp and twitter and call across the flowerly fields surrounding our home. It’s the 4th. It’s a day off. I’m done working on my dream (and the garden) for the moment. It’s time to join my wife for breakfast and await the coming of family.

Here’s hoping all of you have a great Independence Day. As you celebrate family, and food, and friends, and your loved ones, don’t forget our men and women under arms, in harms’ way, across the world, protecting the freedom we often take for granted.

Peace.

Mark

 

George Millard, Harry Munger, Bruce Meyer, and Walter Mondale boarding a float plane to leave Lake Elsie.

George Millard, Harry Munger, Bruce Meyer, and Walter Mondale boarding a float plane to leave Lake Elsie.

You might think that driving from Duluth to Ignace, Ontario with four octogenarians crammed into a blue Pacifica might be problematic, what with all the pee stops, driving instructions, and potential for discord inherent in such a journey. Not so. Oh, I’ll grant you that when my dad, Harry Munger, a lifelong friend of former U.S. Senator, Vice President, and Ambassador (to Japan) Walter F. Mondale tabbed me to be the driver for our annual fishing sojourn to the wilds of Ontario, and I found out I’d be hauling four men with the collective age of a deceased pharaoh, well, there was surely some trepidation experienced by this writer. Hitting the road a week ago last Sunday before sunrise to pick up Fritz and his pal George Millard from the Willard Munger Inn (no kidding), my dad from his apartment at UMD, and my dad’s law school buddy and outdoor adventure pal, Bruce Meyer from his son’s home in Clover Valley, I was indeed apprehensive. But once the banter between the old men began, once the philosophical and religious and political discourse echoed through the van, I knew that I was in for an interesting trip.

We met up with the rest of our crew (save one of our hosts) at the Blue Water Cafe in Grand Marais. Jay Litman, Dr. Bob Donley, Sammy Perella, and Sammy’s seventeen year old son, Tony, were all slurping syrup and eating big breakfasts when we meandered into the restaurant on a cool and foggy Sunday morning. Pleasantries were exchanged and then my carload of wisdom and wit found seats at a table and ordered Swedish pancakes, eggs, toast, sausage, and bacon to fill the morning void. We drank vats of coffee and, when we were ready to leave, we transferred Bruce’s and my gear from the Pacifica to Jay’s trailer to give George (who was manning a rear seat in my van) more room for his weary knees. Soon, we were back on the road, the Big Lake, a vast bowl of gray water whipped to frenzy by the wind, on our right as we made our way to the Canadian border.

Customs was a breeze. Last year, the Canadian agent manning the border noticed he was about to admit a former dignitary into his nation. This year, nary a word about Mondale’s fame was said by the guy who examined our passports and waved us through. A left hand turn onto the Queen’s Highway, a few more hours and we were at Ignace Airways,  the flying service the Litman family has used to access their family camp on Lake Elsie for the better part of four decades. The ceiling was not conducive to taking off from water in a bush plane. The sky was rainy and fog socked. Brad, the owner of Ignace Airways, made the call early, sparing us any drama. We’d have to spend the night in a local motel hoping that the sky cleared by morning.

Monday morning, we packed food and clothing and eight guys into two small De Havilland airplanes for the short flight to the Litman camp. When we landed, we were greeted by Sheriff Ross Litman and a group of guys who’d been fighting bad weather for the better part of a week. We emptied the planes of our gear and Ross’s guests loaded their stuff onto the planes before leaving us alone in paradise.

Fishing was good. Not great. But steady. The surface water temp of the lake never exceeded 57 degrees, resulting in the nine of us catching and releasing far more lake trout than we normally do. Ross and Jay Litman, our hosts, divided camp duties between them, Ross being the organizer and constantly-in-motion camp caretaker and Jay the chef. Of course, given that Sammy Perella owns one of the Sammy’s Pizzas in Duluth, there was one night of Italian, prepared by Sammy, to go along with the fine steaks, fresh walleye and lake trout dinner, conies, and assorted big breakfasts Jay threw together (with some assistance from Ross).

Sammy and Tony Perella.

Sammy and Tony Perella.

 

The rest of us filled in doing dishes, yard work, and assorted chores assigned to us by the Sheriff. And despite the diverse nature of our personalities, amazing as it may sound, nary a grouse or a complaint escaped our collective lips over the entirety of the trip. Tony, by far the youngest of the crew (and a recent graduate of The Marshall School in Duluth) listened to the stories, the political debates, the religious discourse, and the gentle arguing of older men, inhaling the experience like a new baby taking his or her first breath.

Bruce and George.

Bruce and George.

Jay Litman makes a point to a rapt audience.

Jay Litman makes a point to a rapt audience.

 

Ross and Tony celebrate their birthdays at Lake Elsie.

Ross and Tony celebrate their birthdays at Lake Elsie.

Tony turned 18 on the trip, calling his mother via satellite phone (there’s no cell phone service in the bush) on his big day. Ross celebrated a birthday as well, though given the Sheriff’s advanced age, no mention was made (as we ate celebratory banana cream pie) of the exact number of years the chief

law enforcement officer of St. Louis County has graced this Earth. The high point of the trip for me was that, for two days, while everyone else was struggling to land fish using jigs and minnows, I was killing the walleyes, lake trout, and the occasional whitefish using a white and pink spinner tipped with a minnow.

“You better retire that lure,” Ross said the third day I tossed the rig into the clear waters of Lake Elsie. “That spinner deserves to be in the fishing hall of fame.”

Ah, but only if I had quelled my greed for one more fish. The third day wasn’t the charm. I lost the spinner to one of Elsie’s many rocks and, that night, as I sat in a boat watching Ross, Tony, and Sammy haul in fish after fish, my line as limp as an impotent suitor, I lamented that I hadn’t followed the Sheriff’s wisdom. But in telling you this tale of woe, I missed the most important part of our week together: the founding of a new and significant religious tradition; Walleyeism. Which brings us back to the photo I posted on Facebook of the former Vice President of the United States holding a stone walleye. Patience, dear readers, there is a connection here, I promise.

Sometime this past year, after Fritz lost his beloved wife Joan and found himself in the hospital for a variety of ailments, George Millard concocted a plan to raise his friend’s spirits. At first, it was only George and Bruce in on the caper. Inspired by a rock carver George met at a mineral show in Arizona, Fritz’s longtime confidant and friend came up with the notion to have the carver create a lifelike walleye out of Tiger’s Eye stone for the former Vice President. From such modest beginnings, George spun a web of deceit and inspiration that led to the Sheriff concocting an outrageous plan as to how to “present” the carved fish to Mondale. I was only brought in on the scam at the tail end, when Ross copied me in on a few of the emails flying between the co-conspirators. Mondale, of course, was part of the email chain only as a clueless victim. Fritz was provided with just enough information to believe that George and his cohorts were fabricating a tale for the Vice President’s amusement during his hospital stay and recuperation, but the great man was never savvy to the true intent of the plot: to gift him a magnificently carved fish on the shores of Lake Elsie.

Thursday. Ross and Tony left the Vice President bundled up in the cabin as they motored across the lake to set the trap. The plan was elaborate. The carved walleye, safely transported to Lake Elsie by the fictional Jesus through underground tunnels, was to be placed in a waterproof bag, attached by line to a fishing marker, and left in such a way so as to allow Mondale to snag the line securing the treasure, feel the heft of the fake fish, and think he’d hooked the mother of all behemoths. All three boats were to meet at the fishing marker at 2:30pm to witness the event. Oh, there were fears that the line might break, leaving a priceless artifact on the bottom of Lake Elsie for archeologists to discover and wonder over. But that was the only thing we feared. Unfortunately, we failed to take into account the fact that, for two solid days of fishing, Mondale had been incapable of catching his own pants leg.

The VP finally reels in the stone walleye.

The VP feels the weight of his stoney “catch”.

Ultimately, after about a half hour of spectators in the other boats pretending to fish, my old man (who was also brought in late to the scam) laying thick and misguided “hints” as to why the Sheriff continued to circle a fishing buoy that was yielding no fish, the former Vice President snagged the marker. Not the line he was intended to snag, the line from the marker to the stone fish, but the anchor line of the marker itself. The Sheriff quickly adapted and urged Fritz to reel in the prey he’d finally managed to catch. And there, on the slate gray waters of Lake Elsie, the stone fish, the icon of a new faith, Walleyism, was revealed.

The author with his first whitefish ever.

The author with his first whitefish ever.

Our last day of fishing, my lament over the loss of the white spinner continued. I went out with Jay Litman and Dr. Bob on the pontoon boat. I had one bite, one small tap tap on the end of my line, as we trolled for hours around the lake. It wasn’t until we were within a stone’s throw of the cabin that I finally caught and landed two fine lake trout, my last fish of the trip.

That evening, Ross broiled fish for our last dinner together. The lake trout and walleye fillets, fresh out of Lake Elsie, could compete with any meal at any fine restaurant, including Wolfgang Puck’s place in San Francisco. After dinner, George and I tackled the dishes. and then Jay, Doc, and I headed for the sauna as the Sheriff took the Vice President and the Perrellas out for one last go at the walleye. I dove into the frigid waters alongside Doc, the two of us as naked as the day we were born, yelps echoing across the dusky sky. Across the lake, Fritz redeemed himself by landing three fine fish, walleyes of the flesh and blood, not stone, variety.

The next day, fog cloaking the trees, a gentle mist falling over the Canadian bush, we cleaned the cabin and the bunk house and waited for the weather to clear and for the drone of the De Havillands.

The Sheriff and Tony cleaning fish.

The Sheriff and Tony cleaning fish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New Prophet of Walleyism.

The New Prophet of Walleyism.

Thanks to the old guys, to Doc and Sammy and Tony, and to our gracious hosts, the Litman brothers, for making some more memories.

Peace.

Mark

 

Night

The Nightengale’s Song by Robert Timberg (1995. Touchstone. ISBN0684826739)

Hmm. Well, what to say about a book that one of my brother judges gave me to read with the recommendation that it’s “one of my favorite books”? Granted, Dale Harris is entitled to a certain level of bias towards the subject matter. He’s a Navy man and Timberg’s book, a look back at five men involved in both the Vietnam War and Iran Contra, profiles five Annapolis graduates: Senator John McCain, Lt. Col. Robert McFarlane, former Sen. James Webb, Lt. Col. Oliver North, and Adm. John Poindexter. So I’ll give my friend a pass on the hyperbole he attached to the book as he handed it to me a few months’ back. But having plowed through the 543 pages of this tome at odd hours of the night and on weekends, I won’t be making a similar proclamation in this review.

Not that the book didn’t hold my attention. It did. Particularly the early portions of the story involving John McCain’s hijinks at the Naval Academy and the scenes depicting his time spent in captivity in Hanoi after being shot down during the Vietnam War. In his treatment of McCain, a man who has enured both my admiration (McCain-Feingold) and my contempt (Sarah Palin), Timberg’s portrait is detailed and, at times, deeply moving. So too is the way he touches upon the rivalry between Ollie North and Jim Webb beginning with a still-hallowed boxing match at the Academy (North won). But the scenes devoted to McFarlane and Poindexter aren’t nearly so concisely painted, leading to a level of boredom and confusion created, perhaps, by a skilled writer biting off a bigger chunk of a historic story than is warranted. How’s that? I found myself confused trying to follow the five separate and distinct biographical sketches Timberg uses to explain the linked narrative of Vietnam and Iran Contra. The result is that I came to an understanding there are connections between America’s failure in the southeast Asian conflict and the scandal that nearly undid Reagan’s presidency. (A note to Reagan fans here: Timberg equates, without ever saying as much, the former president’s intellectual capacity with that of a B-level actor playing the role of his life.) But the details of Iran Contra are, at least for me, buried in the vignettes depicting the five principals. So far as I could discern, the author never arrives at a narrative that explains what happened during Iran Contra, what the end game was, who was actually involved, and how high the scandal reached. I get it was an “arms for hostages” slight of hand orchestrated by North, and to a lesser degree, Poindexter and McFarlane. But the details, at least for me, remain murky even after finishing this marathon read.

There’s value in revisiting moments in history where our democracy has come off the rails. I think that was Timberg’s intent, to explain what happened during Iran Contra within the context of our nation’s sad experience in Vietnam. I’m not so sure he accomplished his goal, though, in attempting to state his case, the author does explore five distinct and unique men who served their nation, albeit with varying levels of honor.

3 and 1/2 stars out of 5.

FinnFoundLogoBW

Today I received a check from the Finlandia Foundation representing a national grant from the Foundation in support of my novel-in-progress, Sukulaiset: The Kindred  a novel of the Holocaust, WW II, and Karelian Fever set in Finland, Estonia, and Karelia. The Foundation is a national organization whose primary goal is to inspire, celebrate, and connect members of the Finnish American community. The Foundation is the most important sponsor of Finnish culture, history, and arts in the United States. The book will debut at Finn Fest in the Twin Cities in August (2014) and be released to the general public in the fall of 2014. Thanks to the Foundation and to Gerry Henkel of The New World Finn and Jim Kurtti of the Finnish American Reporter for supporting the grant application. SukuRedoMore information about my appearance at Finn Fest and the October launch of the book at the Theater of the North in Fitger’s will be announced as details are finalized. Thanks to the Foundation and to Gerry Henkel of The New World Finn and Jim Kurtti of the Finnish American Reporter for supporting the grant application.

Peace.
Mark

 

 

Mark

Letters from Hawaii by Mark Twain (1966. University of Hawai’i Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-0288-2)

I bought this book on my way home from Hawai’i. I spotted it in the airport bookstore on Oahu and I was intrigued, after reading Jack London’s collection of Hawai’i related tales, to read what Mr. Twain had to say about Hawai’i of the early 20th century. I wasn’t disappointed.

Oh, there are a few boring letters from Twain back home, to California, where Twain was living in at the time of his voyage to Hawai’i in 1866. The chapter on sugar cane production might be interesting to modern-day sugar cane farmers, agricultural historians, but likely no one else. But there are enough rollicking, riveting displays of Twain’s sense of humor and his ability to prettify travel narrative for most casual readers. A collection of articles Twain wrote for the Sacremento Union, the paper that underwrote the trip, the topics in this book range from descriptions of beautiful Hawaiian maidens swimming the surf in the altogether to Twain’s wry observations regarding Hawaiian legislative politics. Here’s a classic passage:

The mental caliber of the Legislative Assembly is up to the average of such bodies the world over-and I wish it were complimentary to say it, but it is hardly so. I have seen a number of legislatures, and there was a comfortable majority in each of them that knew just about enough to come in when it rained, and that was all. Few men of first-class ability can afford to let their affairs go to ruin while they fool away their time in legislatures for months on a stretch.

Twain invented a traveling companion (likely his own alter ego), the inflated and bumbling Mr. Brown, as a foil for some of the scenes depicted in the stories. In a passage discussing Brown’s seasickness, the author is reveals his descriptive and comedic talents:

He seemed as distressed and restless, at intervals-albeit the rule of his present case was to seem to look like an allegory of unconditional surrender-hopeless, helpless, and indifferent-he seemed as distressed and restless as if my conversation and my anecdotes were irksome to him. It was because of this that I as last dropped into poetry. I said I had been writing a poem-or rather, been paraphrasing a passage from Shakespeare-a passage full of wisdom, which I thought I might remember easier if I reduced it to rhyme-hoped it would be pleasant to him-said I had take a few liberties with the original…(After reciting the poem, Twain continued)…As I finished (reciting the poem), Brown’s stomach cast up its contents, and in a minute or two he felt entirely relieved and comfortable. He then said that the anecdotes and the eloquence were “no good” but if he got seasick again, he would like some more poetry.

The author’s best known work from his Hawaiian journey is Burning of the Clipper Ship Hornet at Sea, a tale which is contained in this volume. While the details of that tragic sinking (and Twain’s portrayal of the heroic efforts of the crew to reach the islands) are impressive, my favorite passages from his letters back to the mainland are those where he is immersed in the strange and almost fictional creation of the young Hawaiian nation. For while the Hawaiian culture had been around for centuries, the unified independent nation of Hawai’i was, at the time of Twain’s visit, a very recent development, the whole having emerged from a collection of separate fiefdoms on the sundry islands to form an interesting, if short-lived, kingdom modeled after Great Britain.

A fine way to learn what it was like to be a tourist on the major islands of the archipelago back at the dawn of steamships, the telegraph, and American expansionism.

4 stars out of 5.

SukuRedo

No, the new book still is not done. Right now, it’s at Scribendi, the editing service I use, going through a professional proofread before I put the final touches on the manuscript. The plan is to have copies of Sukulaiset: The Kindred available for purchase by my Finnish friends at Finn Fest 2014 (08/07-10/2014) in downtown Minneapolis. I’m calling that a soft launch of the book. Then, sometime in the fall of 2014 (late September/early October), I’ll launch the book officially here in Duluth with the assistance and support of the Bookstore at Fitger’s. Plans include using the Spirit of the North Theater, having special guests (musical and non-musical) in attendance, making sure the bar is open, and reading a few passages from the novel in hopes of generating “buzz” about the book. But that’s in the future.

Next Saturday, May 17th, from 11:00am-3:00pm, I’ll be doing my first book event in nearly a year at the Duluth Public Library. Stop on down to visit with me and a plethora of other local authors (some famous, some infamous) selling their books and talking about their writing. It’s all part of what the library is billing as Local Authors Day. For a roster of the folks who’ll be in attendance log on to: http://www.duluth.lib.mn.us/programs-events/authors-day/. The Fishing Opener will be over. Summer will be looming. You’ll need a good book or two for the forthcoming hammock time. I’ll have copies available of every title I’ve ever written for the first time in many, many years. Come on down and buy a signed Munger book or two to add to your collection of fine regional books!

Peace.

Mark

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