Monday, April 4, 2011
"Being Polite to Hitler" ~ A Cautionary Tale
"Being Polite to Hitler"
By: Robb Forman Dew
Publisher: Little, Brown & Co.
"After being a teacher and raising her family for most of her life, Agnes Scofield realizes she is truly weary of the routine her life has become. But how, at age fifty-four, can she establish an identity apart from what has so long defined her? Despite a newfound freedom, Agnes finds herself becoming even more entangled in the family web. In Being Polite to Hitler, one of our most cherished chroniclers of the intricacies of personal and family life in all its seasons brings us a sweeping portrayal of a much misunderstood American era."
Absolutely stunning novel so full of meaning and history that you can bearly read each page without wanting to stop, think and take it in. This novel is absorbing to read, as well as being a voyeristic trek into one family's dynamics. Ms Dew's sense of plot and timing is seamless. You will be taken up and lifted through this book effortlessly.
Robb Forman Dew, a former National Book Award winner for her book "Dale Loves Sophie To Death," is an author whose ilk I've rarely had the pleasure of experiencing since college in classic American Literature. In fact, this book ought to be read as a requirement, it's that relavent today for understanding our social history in the post-WWII 1950's and early 1960's. Dew ranks with such authors as Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf and Carson McCullers in her abilities and significance.
Centered around the Scofield family in "small town" Ohio, Ms Dew renders the microcomic view of an ordinary set of people with their reactions to such critical transitions as civil rights, the Rosenbergs, the atomic bomb threat, post-war commercialism, JFK's assassination and other issues of the mid-century.
Her characterization is flawless with such women as Agnes, the matriarch. Just her saying this below made her a wonder in my mind:
"But what on earth possessed these people for whom she had been the best parent she could manage to be, for whom she had tried to pretend wisdom, to mime adulthood--oh, Lord! Those children! Why weren't they safe by now? What were they doing? They rushed along through their lives, discarding the days like so many pieces of bad fish. It amazed her that they hadn't absorbed the idea--through all the time they spent growing up--of taking care, of guardedly harbouring...Well! Why were they so careless of their own contentment? Why weren't they willing to be happy all the time?"
Which mother of us hasn't felt that way??
Interestingly enough, her grandchildren are the children raised on the cusp of ribald commerciaism and over-indulgence; as they search the skies for Sputnik, play in bomb shelters and learn how to hide under desks at school.
Ms Dew is a gifted writer whose work will make a difference and will become an edict for contemporary Americans, and our society which is caught up in our every day distractions and fatalism. It's easy, however, to be seduced into a false complacency by the numerous sources of media today. Like those who "saw" the threats around them in those early decades, we often believe that "being polite to Hitler" in polite company, and throwing money at a cause will suffice.
I would highly recommend this novel to everyone--women and men. You can find a video introduction on Amazon.com, and bookgroup questions at:
Let me know what you think, please!
Your Bookish Dame
Posted by Deb at 10:50 AM