Where I'm Bound
by Allen B. Ballard '52
Simon and Schuster
The need to recognize the contributions of African Americans to American history has become an ever insistent part of our national self-awareness. Allen B. Ballard's Where I'm Bound plays a role in answering this need by representing the contributions of ex-slaves to the Union war effort during the Civil War.
Ballard's engaging historical novel follows the life of Joe Duckett, an escaped slave turned scout and soldier in the Third U.S. Colored Cavalry. The quickly paced novel relies on action for a good deal of its power, action frequently carried out by the heroic Duckett. But as in any good fiction, Ballard's representation of action has larger purposes. Principal among these is his intention to convey the inner psychological life of a character such as Duckett. What were the feelings and thoughts of an ex-slave turned soldier? How did he imagine himself and his fellow ex-slaves? What were his attitudes toward Southern soldiers and slaveholders? What did he think about Northern soldiers, whose view of blacks was often little more charitable than that of slaveholders?
Where I'm Bound answers these and other questions by following Joe Duckett's life from mid-1863 to the close of the Civil War in 1865. In doing so, Ballard shows how Duckett and his fellow soldiers grow from ex-slaves into citizens. Throughout the novel, their humanity and dignity shine through. Where I'm Bound makes clear that these qualities had always been inherent in the men when they were slaves, but they come more powerfully to the fore when the men fully realize their status as freedmen and (as Ballard points out) when they fight for their freedom. Throughout, the novel is clearly sustained by the author's thorough understanding of the relevant military history, but also his desire to represent the psychologies of those under the extreme stress of combat.
Though it focuses primarily on Duckett's life as a military hero, Where I'm Bound is equally a family saga. Ballard intertwines the military sections with the story of Duckett's wife, Zenobia, from whom he has been separated. These passages not only explore Zenobia's sense of herself as a woman, a wife, and a mother, but also represent the communal and social aspects of slave life. One of the strengths of this novel is its ability to offer an intimate fictional portrait of the slave community in a time of historical change. With the impending end of slavery, how was a woman such as Zenobia to think of herself? What responsibilities does she owe to an absent husband? What might freedom mean? In what ways would freedom be potentially more dangerous, at least in the short run, than slavery? The chaos of slavery's end, especially set in the context of warfare, provides Ballard with ample chance to dramatize the difficulties of Zenobia Duckett's life and reveal it as no less heroic than that of her husband, Joe.
The novel also gives serious attention to relations between races, by following the fortunes of Richard Kenworthy and his wife, Susan. Kenworthy is a major in the Confederate Army, attached to the command of the notorious General Nathan Bedford Forrest. The sections of the novel treating Kenworthy's military exploits and his relations with his wife and other family members give the reader a glimpse into the world of the white South that parallels the other plot lines.
Ballard gives these matters a special twist because Kenworthy is the former master of Joe and Zenobia Duckett. In fact, Richard and Joe are depicted as having been childhood companions. By the time of the novel's action, though, these companions have become antagonists and battlefield enemies. The central conflict between Richard and Joe unfolds against the general backdrop of changing racial relations, where former masters find themselves on equal footing with former slaves. Ballard takes pains to depict how the concluding moments of slavery powerfully transform the day-to-day relations between black and white. The novel dramatically demonstrates the important truth that slavery, far from being simply an economic system, depended on a complex system of human relations.
Throughout the novel, Ballard skillfully manages a complicated mixture of plot lines, genres, and subgenres, including military history, historical fiction, domestic drama, adventure, and romance. Where I'm Bound speaks to an important part of American history in ways sure to reward the reader's effort.
-Theodore O. Mason Jr., John B. McCoy-Bank One Distinguished Teaching Professor of English
American Vintage: The Rise of American Wine
by Paul Lukacs '78
Twenty-five years ago, a young Frenchman named Steven Spurrier invited France's most prominent wine personalities to judge a blind tasting of French and American wines at his small wine shop in Paris. While confident that the French wines would win, Spurrier still hoped to show that American wines were much better than the French wine press and trade-a notoriously chauvinistic bunch-had given them credit for. During the tasting, several of the judges mused aloud about the shortcomings of what they thought were the American wines and the greatness of the French (one spoke of the "magnificence of France" showing in a glass of what turned out to be Napa Cabernet).
To everyone's shock, when the scores were tallied and the bottles revealed, the top rated red and white wines hailed from California's Napa Valley. "What can they say now," asked Frank Prial of the New York Times. "California defeated all Gaul," declared Time. American wine had arrived.
Paul Lukacs uses this celebrated event to begin his fascinating new book, American Vintage: The Rise of American Wine, which traces the sometimes glorious, often rocky history of wine in American, from its humble beginnings in Cincinnati to the $100 Cabernets of today. Along the way, he visits the trials, triumphs, and follies of some of wine's more notorious personalities, who, whether cranky, greedy, benevolent, or even crazy, break far from the stodgy image in which the industry is often cast.
Rather than steadily rising in quality and acclaim, as the title suggests, Lukacs shows American wine as enjoying an initial lift during the nineteenth century, a precipitous fall during and after the years of Prohibition, and another ascent that still continues today. Lukacs traces the first serious attempts at producing palatable wine back to the early 1800s, a time when Thomas Jefferson declared that "We in America [can produce wine] doubtless as good" as the great wines in Europe.
Though Jefferson's statement was eventually shown to be accurate, virtually no good wine had been produced in America yet. But a Cincinnati businessman named Henry Longworth soon took a special interest in the industry. He believed wine was, as Jefferson said, "the only antidote" to the nation's "bane of whiskey," as he noted that wine-producing countries such as Italy and France had far lower levels of public drunkenness than America. His attempts at making a quality wine were eventually borne out in the 1840s by way of a sparkling wine made from the Catawba grape, a drink so good that it inspired "Ode to Catawba Wine" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Longworth's success led others into the wine industry, from New York to Missouri and, eventually, California, whose wines were winning competitions all over the world by the late nineteenth century. Unfortunately, many of the grape varieties used were especially susceptible to weather, disease, and insects. While these nuisances were overcome, a more serious threat, the temperance movement, gained in popularity and political power. Henry Longworth's hope of using wine to combat drunkeness had given way to the notion of temperance as absolute abstinence from alcohol, and by the time Prohibition was voted into law in 1920, wine was thought of as no different from whiskey.
Although it lasted only thirteen years, Prohibition devastated the wine industry for much of the twentieth century, and it was not until the 1960s that world-class wines were again being produced in America. It took Spurrier's tasting to spread the word throughout America and beyond. Today no one is surprised when an American wine is judged to be superior to a French one, nor is there surprise if the wine comes from Washington or Oregon rather than California. And Lukacs sees a bright future for wine in other states, including Virginia and New York.
While Lukacs covers improvements in winemaking and grape-growing techniques, he obviously relishes writing about the colorful cast of characters that shaped American wine. He visits some of the more unusual mavericks of the twentieth century, such as Martin Ray, who was given to dismissing guests from his property when they had "the gall to express their own opinions." When people suggested, correctly, that winemakers in Bordeaux used several different grape varieties to make a single bottle of wine, Ray declared them "liars and infidels" and refused to sell them his wine.
Lukacs's wonderfully entertaining chapter "First Families" contrasts the successes of two great names in American wine, Gallo and Mondavi. The brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo built an empire on the back of large production and inexpensive wines, while Robert Mondavi made high-end wines in his eponymous Napa Valley winery, which he started after a disagreement with his brother resulted in a left to his brother's jaw and Robert's dismissal from the family winery. Mondavi saw wine as essential to a life lived with taste, and he spared little expense in making his wines, which were far greater in price and quality from the jug wines being produced by the Gallos. Both wineries continue to thrive today, and while Gallo is still the world's largest winery, its best wines are now on par with those of Mondavi. Unlike Robert Mondavi Winery, Gallo remains a family-owned business.
American Vintage recently won the unofficial "triple crown" of the wine-book awards circuit: best-book prizes from the James Beard Foundation, the International Association of Culinary Professionals, and Veuve Clicquot. It certainly deserves the praise. Lukacs's story is gripping, the personalities unusual, the narrative lively. Most importantly, it is easy to understand why he feels such a passion for the American wine industry.
-Eben Gillette '95. Gillette worked in the wine industry in San Francisco for four years before relocating to New York City, where he is a vice president at DeVries Public Relations.
Bluegrass Odyssey: A Documentary in Pictures and Words, 1966-86
by Carl Fleischhauer '62 and Neil V. Rosenberg
University of Illinois Press
Bluegrass Odyssey brings to life a community of musicians, fans, scholars, merchants, and families joined by their love of bluegrass music. One of the few truly American art forms, bluegrass is also a fairly recent one. In the mid-1940s, the "greats" of this music-notably Bill and Charlie Monroe, Ralph and Carter Stanley, Lester Flatt, and Earl Scruggs-refashioned the old-time acoustic music of the South, particularly its fiddle band repertoire and vocal styles. The newly energized music, propelled by the innovative, sparkling style of Earl Scruggs on the banjo, was once favored chiefly by rural America but now has a worldwide following.
Ohio has always been part of the bluegrass "odyssey," quite literally. In the years following World War II, a wave of emigrants from Kentucky and West Virginia moved north and west, many of them settling in the Columbus area. The "three R's" of eastern Kentuckians hoping to improve their lives were "readin', 'ritin', and Route 23," referring to the main road north from Kentucky to Columbus. Columbus-born country star Dwight Yoakam turned that slogan into a song of his own family's struggle; likewise, Monroe titled an instrumental piece "Road to Columbus."
Many of the photographs in this book were taken in and around Columbus. Gambier, too, has a special connection to this music scene: Thanks to the Gambier Folk Festival (which ended in its twenty-fifth year, in 1997), many in the Kenyon community have had the opportunity to meet and hear bluegrass greats in person, including Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, Kenny Baker, Josh Graves, and Del McCoury.
Photographer Carl Fleischhauer and writer Neil Rosenberg were bluegrass musicians when they first met in the early 1960s, and, as with many others of their generation, the folk revival shaped their professional careers as well as their personal lives. They are ideal collaborators: each is recognized as preeminent in his field. Fleischhauer, a well-published documentary photographer, spent many years with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Today, he is involved in the library's National Digital Library Program, an effort to preserve sound and video recording. Rosenberg, a professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland, is a leading writer on bluegrass. His text provides an abbreviated history of country music's makers and promoters in the twentieth century, while giving the flavor of bluegrass's themes and values.
What I enjoy most, though, is his candid recollection of his own experiences in bluegrass. Consider this vignette about working for Bill Monroe: "The first time I sat in as a Blue Grass Boy [Monroe's band], Bill stood beside me pounding a frightening rhythm on the mandolin right into my ear. Later I came to believe that he was working to instill in me a proper respect and visceral understanding of what he called 'timing,' a crucial aspect of his music."
Fleischhauer's photographs reflect a similar gift for the telling detail. Describing his technique in the afterword, Fleischhauer deliberately moves fully around and beyond his subject in hopes of finding the unusual angle and the untold story. The result here is that his camera frames some of the great personalities of American music and a fascinating musical subculture.
One photo, for example, shows Monroe loosening up to buckdance onstage during a set with Flatt and Scruggs. But perhaps most revealing is a 1970 photo of the bluegrass legend at a late-night jam session. Monroe appears bathed in white light, interrupting the dark of night as he plays his mandolin under the gaze of his "disciples." More than a technical success in terms of the use of light and contrast, the scene is outstanding for its drama and psychological authenticity.
Among my favorite images are the unguarded, offbeat moments Fleischhauer captures at outdoor music festivals. Here is Ralph Stanley with his wife and small daughters, taking it easy at their trailer in 1972. Here are the hippie entrepreneurs Ken Irwin and Marian Leighton in 1973, founders of the fledgling (and now well-established) Rounder Records, hawking records in front of their VW bus. At close range we may peek at the exceptionally controlled, baroque hairstyles of singers Sonny and Bobby Osborne as they turn toward each other to harmonize. The knee-high white boots of Donna, Roni, and Patsy Stoneman gleam from a Pennsylvania stage in 1970. And there's legendary fiddler Kenny Baker entertaining a young Army sergeant who has brought him a birthday cake-shaped like a guitar.
Bluegrass Odyssey also takes us into the world of those who make bluegrass happen: the people who produce, sell, and write about this music, as well as the stage crews and the radio and recording engineers. The late Ralph Rinzler, consummate fieldworker in American folk culture and director of the Smithsonian Institution's folklife program, appears in an utterly characteristic mode, vintage 1972. From above eye level, we view him tilted back in a rocking chair with a foot poised on his desk, a phone cradled in one hand and the other hand raised in gesture to his caller, amid stacks of file folders, cabinets crammed with southern folk pottery, and a floor littered with split-oak baskets.
It is a comfort to note that the real odyssey of bluegrass people is ongoing. Young and old continue to plan their summer trips to bluegrass festivals; there are still great songs being written and played; and, every once in a while, bluegrass pops out of its niche into the mainstream of American popular culture. (Who could have predicted that a little movie about old-time musicians on an odyssey, O Brother Where Art Thou, would become a hit and sell a ton of recordings?)
Without stereotypes, without condescension, and with the respect and affection that come from deep, longtime involvement in the project, Bluegrass Odyssey opens the window to a musical fellowship that in today's world seems especially precious.
-Judy Sacks, affiliated scholar in American studies
Raising the Shades
by Doug Wilhelm '74 Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Casey Butterfield is an average seventh-grader. He screws around with his friend, eats ice cream, and gets nervous around pretty girls. What Casey has to do every day, however, isn't so average. After school, Casey has to hurry home to clean up his house, do the dishes, and pick up the beer bottles littering his kitchen and living room. He does all this in an attempt to pacify his father before he returns home from work.
In Doug Wilhelm's book Raising the Shades, the effects of alcoholism serve as a background to the relationship between Casey and his father, David. The Butterfield family has been split in half since Casey's mother took his prodigiously talented sister with her to Maine, leaving Casey to take care of his father, literally. Casey makes breakfast, does all the cleaning, and when his father starts dinner but then leaves to smoke marijuana in the garage, Casey finishes that, too.
Casey and his father never speak or even acknowledge these problems, so the situation continues to worsen, until one day Casey and his father are offered a way out. Casey's aunt, Julie, explains to him that there is a way to help his father. Julie introduces him to a man named Joe who is a professional interventionist. The two of them convince Casey that his father does need help, in the form of an intervention in which all his friends and loved ones tell him what he has become.
Raising the Shades is not a terribly complex novel from an adult perspective. The plot is straightforward, and the book's meaning is no deeper than what is apparent. However, all this is not very important because the book is not really meant for an audience that could understand much complexity. Shades best belongs in an elementary-school library. The language becomes a little colorful at times, but nothing kids that age won't already know from South Park. Younger children, who do not yet know much about alcohol, drug use, and its effects, will be experts after reading this informative novel. The story does a superb job of displaying how such things can influence a person and a family and all in a way that a young mind can easily grasp.
Like any book, though, Shades has its flaws. Despite the fact that Wilhelm crafts some very realistic dialogue, he slips up a few times. The book opens with Casey and his best friend, Oscar, exchanging awful jokes: "Gas Attack by Mustafa Binyu," "Yellow River by I.P. Freely," "Cliff's Edge by Hugo Furst." Not only are these ridiculous, but I've never known a seventh-grader who would actually think "We Raced a Tiger by Claude Bunz" was funny. The story is best when it steers clear of Oscar, who, as a character, tries a little too hard to provide comic relief when the book needs none.
Raising the Shades works well when it shows Casey trying not to screw up around Tara, the girl he likes. It works flawlessly when it centers around David Butterfield. David is two completely different people. When he comes home from work, normally sober, he is cheerful and pleasant. It is apparent that he wants desperately to be a good father, but when he starts to drink he transforms into something entirely different. He screams at Tara, he smashes a faucet apart, he drags Casey out of a football stadium by his arm, ranting the whole time. Wilhelm does an excellent job of crafting David's personality, so the reader can see both sides of him. The final scene between Casey and his father is superb in the sense that we see all of David and we can feel both angry and sorry for him at the same time.
Casey and his father are both tragedies of alcohol. In the end, the book leaves us hopeful for both of them, but not completely satisfied about how things will turn out. This works well, because once an addiction is gone there is nothing in the world that can guarantee it won't come back. In this manner, Wilhelm has written a book that describes the impact of alcohol abuse in a manner that third, fourth, and fifth graders will find easy to follow, frightening, and informative all at the same time.
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