Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.
“The Wind that Shakes the Corn” is a novel by Kaye Park Hinckley. The book is a mixture of fact and fictional details interwoven to tell a complete story of Eleanor Dugan Parke, an ancestor of the author. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this historical narrative?
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The details that flesh out the biographical details of the central character’s story are a look into the real life reasons even today the Irish resent the British. The initial chapters on the horrors suffered on the Irish including executing women and children are a valuable history lesson many need to read. The middle chapters on the grievances that led to the American Revolution are likewise educational.
The transition from Philadelphia sugar trading and prosperity to the “Appalachian” hill country for the main characters is reasonable and insightful.
What were the American colonists so angry about? What was it like when the British applied various taxes to enrich the motherland? What were the inequities that led to the Third Amendment? You learn about these things directly through the eyes of the narrators.
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At the end of the book is a brief history lesson to aid those who don’t understand the long history of Irish persecution by the British and the Protestant crackdowns on Catholicism. You also learn the origins of the Scots-Irish, the Presbyterian Scots sent to settle mostly Catholic Ireland, many of whom migrated to the United States decades later.
There are a few deus ex machina, the out of the blue conveniences that add drama to the story, though this book stays within a mostly PG rating with them. Across an ocean, across the years, and the same characters keep meeting up in a world where such things are nearly impossible. The world so conveniently drops characters into the small circle of their lives, cousins marrying cousins but let’s have people of many tribes and social groups visit.
The Nell point of view chapters are fine, but the storytelling deteriorates when it shifts to grandson James.
I can’t think of another book I’ve read that mixes adventure with such near-romance. The main character has committed several murders and accidental manslaughters before she’s 20, had an inconveniently interrupted wedding and gains a new love interest. It is PG-13 on violence and G on the sex barring an abstractly described rape.
When one writes historical fiction, it is easy to let modern mores creep in. Of course the Native American shaman’s medicine works better than that of the English, since the modern reader idealizes it as so much better than today. Of course the white Irish woman after a brief stint in slavery begs not to send the black boy back to a plantation, cursing the institution, and treats her own slaves as near-equals despite admitting they stole from her.
The same “slavery is bad” rant comes up more than once, including a conveniently multi-racial group. The same error is repeated with Scots-Irish settlers admitting in that era they took land from the Cherokee, the impossible deference to a Native American woman. Unrealistic and naively optimistic on all accounts, presenting history as we wish it were not as it was. The multi-cultural utopian wishful thinking comes to a head at the end of the book.
“The Wind that Shakes the Corn” is a historical fiction book that attempts to weave as much history of the nearly century long life of the central character as possible into the story. In some sections, it is an insightful history lesson. In other areas, it fails. Whitewashing history and injecting modern political narratives into the past is as much a mistake as judging historical characters by modern mores. I give the novel four stars for the rich personal development and the breadth of the story.
© 2017 Tamara Wilhite