Stranger Here Below Paperback – May 29 2012
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"Stranger Here Below has the feel of an heirloom, treasured stories of friendship, misunderstanding, forgiveness, and mystery. All woven beautifully together by Joyce Hinnefeld's deft, homespun prose. It's a novel I hope mothers and daughters will read together. ...The central characters--Maze and Mary Elizabeth--are coming bravely into the unknown. Enthralled by their journey, I did not want the book to end." -- Patricia Henley, author of In the River Sweet ?"In her lovely new novel, Joyce Hinnefeld introduces us to a fascinating cast of characters--sisters, visitors, pilgrims, strangers--and untangles the mysteries of their lives with her distinctive grace and delicacy. She is a remarkable writer who gives her readers pleasures to savor on every page." -- Joanna Scott, author of Follow Me: A Novel "Lofty plot and cleverly imagined characters..." -- Washington Post "a multigenerational novel spanning decades rich in history... Recommended for its wide appeal to readers seeking thoughtful, well-written fiction." -- Library Journal --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Joyce Hinnefeld is the author of the acclaimed novel, In Hovering Flight. Her work has appeared in The Denver Quarterly, The Greensboro Review, 13th Moon, the anthology Many Lights in Many Windows: Twenty Years of Great Fiction and Poetry from The Writers Community, and other publications. Her short story collection Tell Me Everything (University Press of New England, 1998) received the 1997 Bread Loaf Writers' Conference Bakeless Prize in Fiction. She is an Associate Professor of English at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA.
Inside This Book(Learn More)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The main characters all have one thing in common, the common bond they have is Berea College.
Its 1961 and Amazing Grace Jensen, meets her new roommate Mary Elizabeth Cox at Berea College. Maze was raised by a single mom from Appalachia, and M.E. as Maze liked to call her was the only child of a southern black minister and his wife Sarah. M.E has been sheltered from the truths kept hidden about her mother, truths that isolate her from her talented daughter and husband as well as the women of the community.
Sarah had once been a carefree young girl but tragedy changed all of that for her, and she now barely hangs on, but all her daughter knows is that her mom has "fits"and has been trained what to do when her mother has said fits, but as we know the truth always has a way of coming out, and when Sarah winds up in the county home for coloreds because her dad can no longer take care of her , it takes someone from her mothers past to make M.E. understand the heartaches and tragedy her mother has experienced.
Maze has issues in her family as well, being raised by a single mother that always had to work hard to keep a roof over their heads, when she winds up taking a job at the Shaker Inn, she could have had no idea how it would impact their lives, this is were their lives start to become intertwined with Sister Georgia, the only remaining shaker in the Pleasant Hill shaker community. Sister Georgia came to the Shaker community after becoming tired of living.
Georginea Ward's story takes us back 60 yrs to when she was a teacher at Berea college, she fell in love with a black man which was not accepted by her wealthy father. Georgia ends the relationship but is never really happy and soon wants to stop living, she winds up going back to a place she had visited 30 years earlier, the Shaker community.There she finally finds peace, and acceptance.
I was immediately drawn into this story, the author does an excellent job of transitioning between past and present in the telling of this story, adding so much more depth to the characters. I could really feel sympathy for M.E.'s character, often feeling shame for the way her mother was.
I really enjoyed reading about the Shaker Religion, something I knew very little about. Sister Georgia was such a gem, with such wisdom and knowledge, if one just takes the time to know her.
A story of intertwining lives and the choices they made, makes this a compelling story that is hard to put down.
Even though I was provided a review copy of this book from the publisher, Unbridled Books, it in no way alters my opinion of this book.
Maze harbors her own family stories, thrilled to be at college, sharing a room with Mary Elizabeth. Cox is a talented pianist soon exploited by a college administration that trumpets her as a symbol of diversity, an effective public relations tool. The tension between the two girls troubles Maze, who seeks acceptance by injecting herself into Mary Elizabeth's family life. Meanwhile, Mary Elizabeth finds solace in the music of Debussy, a reminder of a favorite aunt that once lived in Paris. The third, and critical character in the tale is Sister Georgia, an elderly Shaker woman who once offered Maze's mother a job when she desperately need a place for herself and her young daughter. Born in 1872, Georginea Wall is a woman before her time, burdened by the constraints of a patriarchal society. A teacher sixty years ago at Berea, Sister George is the last of her kind, worshipping in her way, offering wisdom to those who care to listen.
On the cusp of a changing world, the two young women face the future, the threads of the past tangling around their best intentions and the resolution of family obligations, Sister Georgia's wisdom lingering. In prose that eases the pain of tragedy and links the dreams of sometimes broken mothers to their daughters, Stranger Here below is filled with southern values, a deep respect for family and the dawning of a new generation to meet the future. Luan Gaines/2010.
Stranger Here Below is a beautifully written story the centers on several generations of women, who live in the south. Their story is told from the point of view of each woman; the shift is done chapter by chapter, but the transition is smooth and it is never choppy. The story of these women crosses both economic and racial lines, as do their relationships. Additionally, the shift from character to character moves back and forth in time. Gradually the characters and stories are woven together, so that the reader learns the relationships between the different characters and their influences on each other. This book is literary fiction at its best. Each word has weight and adds context to the story. As I was reading, I literally felt like I had climbed into the characters lives. I knew these women and they became my friends.
However that summary of this book does not do Stranger Here Below justice. Yes, it is a book told about 5 women who are connected and it is told across different time periods, flashing back to when each woman was younger and then her as a woman. Yes, the book takes place in Kentucky (and also Chicago for a short period of time). Yes, the book addresses issues of race beginning from the time period in the late 1800s through the late 1960s. Yes, the book addresses women's relationships with each other and issues of economics and poverty. Those are all overarching themes, but amazingly the book is more than these themes.
The true focus of Stranger Here Below is about loss, love - both in romantic relationships and female friendships. Really, the men are side stories and the story focuses on the women, how they relate to each other, how they support each other, how they hurt each other and how they grow apart. Loss is almost another character in Stranger Here Below -- the loss and devastation caused by the death of family members, the death of close friends, the abandonment by a husband, the casting out by a community, and being left by behind by a parent. Despite the fact that Loss is central to the story, it is not a depressing story and Ms Hinnefeld does not detail the losses in a gory or heartbreaking way. In fact, reading this book made me want to reach out to the women in my life - family members and old friends. I strongly recommend this book.
There's Georginea, born in 1872, the granddaughter of Ephraim Ward, the abolitionist, whose fellow students were Lyman Beecher and Theodore Ward. When her mother Rose dies at her birth, her father Davis Ward, leaves her in the care of her maternal aunt Lenora until she is three years old, then brings her to live with him. In Oberlin College, she meets and falls in love with Tobias Jewell, a black man. Her father forbids her to marry him (apparently his liberal views don't stretch THAT far), and she is withdrawn from college and sent to teach in Kentucky, where she ends up at Berea College. In 1890, half of the students there were black, but by 1908, the Day Law forbade integrated education. After Georginea's somewhat dramatic response to this, and a series of disappointments, we find her as Sister Georgia, living in a tiny Shaker community, the last of a dying breed.
There's Vista (named Visitor by mother), raised by her grandmother with occasional visits from her mother, who dies when Vista is a teenager. When Vista meets and falls in love with Nicklaus Jansen, a Swedish boy, they marry and Maze (Amazing Grace) is born.
Sarah experiences a profound tragedy when she was young. She stopped speaking to everyone, including her parents. Eventually, she comes back out of her protective shell, and marries George, a minister. Eventually, she and George have Mary Elizabeth, who is taught by her Aunt Paulie to play piano. She is a gifted player who helps her father take care of her mother, who is prone to falling back into her own world and speaking her own language.
Mary Elizabeth (M.E.) and Maze end up as roommates in Berea College, where in 1950, black students were again allowed to study. M. E. doesn't know what to make of her odd, extremely open wild-haired roommate, and Maze, for her part, attempts to pull M.E. out of her shell and be her friend.
The writing style here is fluid, with vividly drawn places and scenarios. You will fall in love with all of these women, through their hurts, betrayals, disappointments, and quiet triumphs. Most of all, this is a tale about the ties that bind us all to one another.
She had seen this in the men who stayed at the Beau Rive Hotel, and she had laughed at herself, the poor coal-country girl hidden in the kitchen, when she felt a wave of longing well up inside her at the sight of those men in their crisp suits and gold cufflinks. She couldn't even get a dirt-poor boy like Nicklaus Jansen to stay put; what kind of hold could she ever have on a man like that?
White people in downtown Richmond still crossed the street to avoid walking on the same side as her. Having a baby hadn't changed that. White people had also killed her brother. That was what she knew about white people.
Only Negroes who talked back or stepped out of line risked such dangers, George assured his congregation. If they kept to their own and minded their tongues, they would be safe.
BOOK RATING: 4.5 out of 5 stars