A White Wind Blew by James Markert: Book Summary
The Man Before The Cloth
Inserting his characters into historical events is a given in a James Markert novel, and just as his other heavily Christian themed books, our protagonist of A White Wind Blew, Dr. Wolfgang Pike, is beginning to feel his faith wavering.
As a doctor and priest in training assigned to Waverly Hills Sanitarium, housing both patients that are profoundly mentally retarded, mentally ill, or placed there to keep the spreading tuberculosis epidemic out the of the main society, patients didn't last long at the hospital.
While the staff worked tirelessly trying to keep them comfortable in their dying days, few were able to actually be restored to their former health and "check out" of the hospital, as most left through what was first referred to as the "Death Tube" that later had to be upgraded to the "Death Tunnel" as so many patients died daily that the bodies had to be taken from the rooms and stashed down to the incinerators as quickly as possible to keep other patients from becoming upset at the site of roommates and friends passing on.
Wolfgang has a hard time keeping his dual focus as both a man of the cloth and a doctor as he watches these horrible things that are happening to the people around him.
Wolfgang is no stranger to the disease, as his wife had passed, sending him back to his devotion to the church, and it is in the memory of Rose that he gets through each day hoping to find an end for the suffering of his patients.
Before training to be a priest and a doctor, Wolfgang met Rose who tested his faith and convinced him that love was the purest form of magic in the universe and after her death, he finds himself clinging back to his faith trying to understand why he is being tested with the daily task of caring for dying patients.
Maverly From Waverly
Filled with dying patients, some already suffering from other aliments and mental illness before the influx of the epidemic, Wolfgang has many notable characters he encounters in his daily rounds, including an eccentric woman yelling from the windows, as she is Maverly from Waverly, a man only known as Herman who becomes violent and screams, refusing to come from his bed to use the bathroom or to receive meals in the bleak yet cheerfully decorated dining area to take the patients minds off death.
While some patients have found love among their numbers and have been known to sneak off the property to have alone time, one even becoming pregnant and Wolfgang fears telling her of the fate of her lover and keeps telling her that he has been too ill to return her letters she passes from the nursing staff.
It is when a man is brought in that Wolfgang realizes that despite missing a few fingers from one of his hands, he is subconsciously playing piano. Music is something that has always excited Wolfgang and it is in his blood, hence his naming from his parents who also appreciated the arts.
Seeing the dire conditions and the little there is to hope for around Waverly Hills, Wolfgang tries to get permission to start a choir or a small music class for those that showed promise only to be turned down.
After sharing his idea with one of the nurses, they slowly devise a way to incorporate more patients into the music program.
While the colored hospital down the hill is in worse condition and has less food and supplies to share with its patients and staff that live on the grounds, Waverly Hills often shares, and feels that maybe they can even share in their idea to get the music program off the ground.
Eventually, Wolfgang is even able to stage a secret concert.
Feeling the patients need something to look forward to, Wolfgang suggests a music program after seeing one of his patients that was missing a few fingers, still moving his hands mindlessly as if stroking the ivory keys. His idea is shot down, but as more patients are passing and leaving through the Death Tunnel, Wolfgang knows he has to act now and uses his faith to guide him.
Realizing His Calling To Unite Through Music
In flashbacks of his childhood, we know that Wolfgang's family was devoted to music and the arts, since the his naming and music played a part in his life when Rose was still alive through their short courtship and marriage before death had taken her too.
When studying both religion and medicine, music was always there is the background for Wolfgang as something that was also a calling to him, though not as strong as the need to heal the body and human spirit.
When he realizes that he can draw on all three of his passions and use music as part of the treatment for the dying, even though he is told not to pursue this music, Wolfgang unites a group anyway believing that this is the best way to treat the human spirit.
Performing their concert in secret outside Waverly Hills, the music drifted on the winds, past the colored hospital at the foot of the hill and carried on the invisible fingers of the wind into the towns where those still healthy were hearing the song. While most of the audience was sickened or insane from their confinement in the hospital, even they seemed to be soothed by the healing of music as the group played.
The Death Tunnel And The Real Waverly Hills
Seen on several ghost hunting and history programs, the real Waverly Hills, which stands as a historic site that still allows tours and the occasional television show to tape a ghost hunting episode such as Ghost Hunters which featured two Halloween evening live streams of exploring through the hospital, especially room 502, which seems to have activity and in the book is one of the spots where Maverly likes to cry from the windows overlooking the sections of screened in porches where the patients would sit outside or the children that were living in the lower levels of the building would play outside or on their porch.
Ghost shows have claimed to see specters on the prowl in the hallways written about in the novel, to hear disembodied voices, and to have seen on an episode of Ghost Hunters a table overturn itself when being asked some questions.
The shows also explored the true "Death Tunnel" which went under the hospital for discreet corpse disposal. With the amount of bodies being brought through many times a day, some shows claim to hear voices in the tunnel as well.
Tours of Waverly Hills, can be arranged on its official website, making the most of its ghost and historic lore.
How History Set The Stage
Dr. Wolfgang Pike was not always able to save through medicine and faith alone, but the combination of bringing music to those that were suffering was his own gift that provided the comfort they wouldn't have found otherwise.
Using another historic event, the great tuberculosis outbreak as a backdrop and an actual historic place that still stands today and is available for historic and ghost tours, A White Wind Blew is very much like most of Markert's works but stands alone for being almost more powerful than his other writing, which all has a religious theme.
While he is never blamed for those that he couldn't save, Wolfgang still feels guilt weighing on him and has a hard time seeing the good he is doing for those that he can touch through the music.
A beautiful novel based on a terrible time in history, A White Wind Blew is a powerful read that is truly inspirational.