Monday, 1 February 2016
So Big by Edna Ferber
It ended up on my classic TBR pile because it was a Pulitzer prize winning book from 1924.
I'm trying to read my way through as many of the prize winning books as I can. So I was delighted with this spin choice.
I also had the pleasure of reading So Big in the company of Christy @A Good Stopping Point.
Her review is here.
First up, I loved the setting for So Big.
Chicago in the late 1800's is not a period of American history I am very familiar with, so I was fascinated to learn of the Dutch emmigrants who settled in the area as truck gardeners (or market gardeners as we would say in Australia).
High Prairie (now a community area of Chicago called Roseland) was home to a group of hard working Dutch families in the 1880's who eked out a living in this strange new land.
It was a tough life. Babies died, it was bitterly cold, it rained too much, it didn't rain enough, the days were long, life and education were ruled by the seasons, people suddenly got sick and died, there was never enough of anything.
Into this life, waltzes Selina Peake, the new school teacher with her dreams of beauty and adventure.
Her story didn't really go as I expected it to.
After getting to know Selina so well in the early stages of the book, her subsequent marriage and family life seemed to go by very quickly, and suddenly, her son, Dirk (a.k.a. SoBig because of a cute childhood game) was grown up and we were seeing the world, and Selina, through his eyes.
I thought this was going to be a story about pioneer life and women's issues. Instead it turned into a story about the privileged, entitled next generation taking the older hard working generation for granted. It was actually quite modern with its themes of living in the moment and embracing the beauty to be found in the everyday stuff of life.
I wasn't expecting a generational saga in such a slim volume.
Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy it.
I loved it.
Apparently, Ferber based Selina on a real life person called Widow Antje Paarlberg (whose family home has been preserved by her ancestors in South Holland, Illinois below).
Ferber wrote about 40 books and plays. Many of these have been turned into movies, including Show Boat, Giant, Cimarron, Saratoga Trunk and, of course, So Big. Who knew?
Isn't it curious how someone who was so popular and well-known in the arts community at one time, can disappear so completely from the scene in just one generation? In fact, it sounds like the ideal plot for a Ferber story!