Maine Writer Elizabeth Strout Meets Immigrant Writers

“The novelist Elizabeth Strout left Maine but it didn’t leave her,” states Ariel Levy in the May 1, 2017 New Yorker.

Strout’s books resonate with me. Maine claims my heart too.

Strout’s people do not live in Maine tourist towns along the coast. The characters in Olive Kittredge, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize, either cannot  leave the state that defines them, or or else they feel driven to leave it. The Congregational minister in  Abide With Me must work his way through the family tragedy with his daughter in the inland hamlet away from the coastal Maine town favored by his wife’s summer-season parents. Drama is understated, inexpressible. People cannot communicate their feelings. In one interview Strout states that when growing up she had a sense of “just swimming in all their ridiculous extra emotion.”

Levy says “a recurring theme in Strout’s novels is the angry, aching sense of abandonment small-town dwellers feel when their loved ones depart.” It is almost as if they are emigrating to another country.

My parents were both immigrants to the U.S; my father Hans Pederson from Denmark, my mother Doris Huchulak, a Ukrainian Canadian from Alberta. My Danish friend and fellow blogger, mariaholm51, sent this wrenching painting that shows the pain of immigration to the Facebook page currently celebrating my memoir, (same title for both)  “Mysterious Builder of Seattle Landmarks.”

 

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Edvard Pedersen, Emigrants at Copenhagen Harbor 1890

 

My January 22, 2016 blog, “Maine Nonprofit Helps Immigrant Kids” described one young immigrant’s experience at The Telling Room a Portland, Maine youth writing program. On a recent visit to The Telling Room, Levy tells us that  Strout met refugee and immigrant  high schoolers mostly from Africa and the Middle East.

“The students stood in a circle and told Strout what they were working on. ‘My name is Abass and i’m trying to define what home is,” a teen-ager from Ethiopia said.’ Steff rom Burundi told her, ‘I’m writing about how I find my voice in America.’ Another boy said, ‘I’m writing about second chances.'”

After wrenching leave-takings from towns, cities, or countries, lives becomes either better or worse for those who leave and those who remain. They are never the same.

 

Circling the Sun, Beryl Markham, by Paula McLean

 

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Beryl Markham circa 1930 courtesy Wikimedia creative Commons

Circling the Sun,by Paula McLean is a novel featuring the adventures of Beryl Markham the aviation pioneer who flew solo from east to west across the Atlantic.

British born Beryl Markham spent her life in Kenya as a member of the pre-World War II colonial European expatriate society — the British in Africa, India and China; Dutch in South Arica and Indonesia, (called the Dutch East Indies); Vietnam, (French Indo-China); and China (Europeans and Americans).

I spent my early years in China also as an expat — part of the Far Eastern crowd where my adopted father worked as an agent for the Standard Oil. Several servants cared for us. My Shanghai amah had bound feet. This may be one reason why  I couldn’t put the book down.

Paula McLean brings Beryl Markham’s adventurous years in Kenya to life. Neglected by her father, she is raised as a warrior by her African neighbors. One time she places a dead black mamba in her governess’ bed. Among her many adventures, she is mauled by a lion.

Publishers weekly states that “McLean paints an intoxicatingly vivid portrait of colonial Kenya and its privileged inhabitants.”

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Elephants at Amboseli National Park against Mt. Kilimamjaro courtesy Wikimedia Creative Commons

A woman ahead of her time,Beryl Markham became a racehorse trainer, a courageous adventurer, and a writer of her own autobiography, ”West with the Night.” Under Paula McLean’s pen, Markham takes up flying shortly after her lover dies in a plane crash. Assuming the same risks seemd the only path left for her when she says,

“We can only go to the limits of ourselves. Anything more and we give too much away. Then we’re not good for anyone.”

20th Century Writer John Updike

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President and Mrs. George W. Bush present the Medal of Arts to John Updike at the White House 1989. courtesy Grunge 6910, Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

“You always find things you didn’t know you were going to say and that is the adventure of writing.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Updike, 1932-2009. is widely  considered to be one of the great American writers. One of America’s most prolific writers, he wrote twenty novels, more than a dozen short story collections, poetry, criticism, and children’s books.. Calling his subject “The American small town middle class,” he won the Pulitzer prize twice for two books in his “Rabbit” series — Rabbit is Rich, and Rabbit at Rest.

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