My introduction to Wendell Berry was his novel “A World Lost.” Truth be told I was not impressed, and I remember several GR friends offered suggestions on other books by him to read. I very much liked this novel. The writing/prose was par excellence.
The story line was excellent. It wasn’t sappy. Hannah tells the story and her remembrances held my attention throughout. I very much liked Hannah and her first husband Virgil and her second husband Nathan. And all sorts of people around them…Hannah’s Grandmam, Virgil’s mother and father who took in Hannah as if she were their daughter, Burley Coulter who was Nathans’ uncle and so on…And I want to read more about Port William. ?
There was one chapter that took place outside of Port William and it was Okinawa at the time of WWII. Berry is unflinching in his writing of what soldiers had to go through—Nathan fought over there and never wanted to discuss what he had been through with Hannah. Yet that surely affected him, and she later on in her life did some research to learn what he might have gone through. Hell on earth.
I took two pages of notes, and I made comments at three places regarding the beautiful writing…or the wisdom that seeped through the pages into my brain. Here are the passages that struck me, but I must emphasize they are only just samples of the rich writing in this book…
• From Hannah: What you won’t see, but what I see always, is the pattern of our life here that made and kept it as you see it now, all the licks and steps and rounds of work, all the comings and goings, all the days and years. A lifetime’s knowledge shimmers on the face of the land in the mind of person who knows it, walking over it, and it is never fully handed on to anybody else, but has been mainly lost, generation after generation, going back and forth back to the first Indians. And now the history of Nathan’s and my life here is fading away. When I am gone, it too will be mostly gone.
• From Hannah when she makes a remark about her children: “…I said, “I just wanted them to have a better chance than I had.” Nathan said, “Don’t complain about the chance you had,” in the same exact way he used to tell the boys, “Don’t cuss the weather.” Sometimes you can say dreadful things without knowing it. Nathan understood this better than I did. Like several of his one-sentence conversations, this one stuck in my mind and finally changed it. The change came too late, maybe, but it turned my mind inside out like a sock. … Was I sorry that I had known my parents and Grandmam and Ora Finley and the Catletts and the Feltners, and that I had married Virgil and come to live in Port William, and that I had lived on after Virgil’s death to marry Nathan and come to our place to raise our family and live among the Coulters and the rest of our family? Well, that was the chance I had. …The chance you had is the life you’ve got. You can make complaints about what people, including you, make of their lives after they have got them, and about what people make of other people’s lives, even about your children being gone, but you mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else.
• Jim: This is Hannah reflecting on her life and it is only part of a longer passage that is beautiful: “But you have a life too that you remember. It stays with you. You have lived a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present, and your memories of it, remembered now, are of a different life in a different world and time. When you remember the past, you are not remembering it as it was. You are remembering it as it is. It is a vision or a dream, present with you in the present, alive with you in the only time you are alive.”
My edition is from a publishing house that I have not heard of, Shoemaker & Hoard (2004).