Bourke's Bookshelf: ‘An envious heart makes a treacherous ear’
This week's reads include "The Lost Dragon Murder" by Michael Allan Mallory, "The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton and "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston.
I didn’t intend to read books with a common theme the last couple weeks, but the more I think about these three novels, the more links I see among them.
While the settings and stories themselves differed drastically — a modern-day murder mystery, 19th century upper class New Yorkers and and early 1900s African American settlement in Florida — women’s struggles play out in all of them. Whether it’s a female police detective trying to be taken seriously, a socialite refusing to bend to her husband’s every whim or a Black woman trying to find respect and happiness, these are all stories of women trying to make their own way in the world and the obstacles that stand in their way.
‘The Lost Dragon Murder’ by Michael Allan Mallory
The most recent novel by Twin Cities author Michael Allan Mallory, “The Lost Dragon Murder” introduces readers to Detective Henry Lau, kung fu extraordinaire and professional mentor to his niece, Detective Janet Lau.
When an art expert is brutally murdered and a priceless artifact deemed missing, Detectives Lau and Lau spring into action — Janet looking up to her uncle, learning everything she can about her new position and Henry proving to his boss and himself he’s fit for duty after a near-fatal accident.
Not only is the story packed with thrilling action scenes and unpredictable twists, it’s also informational. With every book I read, I hope to learn something — any random tidbit of knowledge that might come in handy somewhere down the road or help me achieve my lifelong goal of appearing on “Jeopardy!” This book delivered in that realm.
A few basic martial arts terms now live in my brain, as well as the story of the Old Summer Palace bronze heads, which I was excited to learn is true. The 12 bronze animal heads — one for each of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals — once stood on a water clock in front of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing. They were stolen in 1860 during the Second Opium War, and only some of them have been recovered. Mallory uses the dragon, one of the pieces still missing, as a motive for murder in his book, creating an intriguing storyline as Henry and Janet work to not only solve a murder but also locate the object that started it all.
‘The Age of Innocence’ by Edith Wharton
High society New York in the 1870s — boxes at the opera, homes with dedicated ballrooms and stringent societal norms that say women are expected to get married, dote on their husbands and keep their opinions to themselves.
Newland Archer begins to question these notions when the cousin of his fiancee appears in New York after several years and catches his eye. Initially enamored with his betrothed, May Welland, Newland suddenly has eyes for the scandal-ridden Countess Ellen Olenska, back from Europe after fleeing her abusive husband. While the rest of the family vehemently opposes Ellen’s proposed divorce, Newland finds himself wondering why women aren’t as free as men. Caught between an engagement he now regrets and love for a woman he can’t have, the young man must choose between his duty and his heart’s desire.
I appreciated Wharton’s commentary on what now seems like the absurdity of the time’s social mores, but I can’t say this book really resonated with me. It turned out to be more of a slow burn rather than a page-turner and won’t be making its way onto any of my must-read lists.
‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston
Janie Crawford tries to find herself through a series of marriages, starting from her late teens, up to her late 30s.
Raised by her grandmother, who was born into slavery, Janie does what she feels is right when she marries Logan Killicks. But she soon finds, to her horror, that love doesn’t automatically follow when a man and women are bound by marriage vows.
She eventually finds herself in Eatonville, Florida, one of the first self-governing all-Black municipalities in the country. Janie seems to find her place among peers in Eatonville, but the honeymoon phase with her new husband soon fades, leaving her feeling lonelier than ever.
Later on she makes her way to the Everglades, a sure fire place to make some good money and escape all the people gossiping about her running off with a younger man.
While Janie’s story doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending, I don’t think it’s devastating either. She learns about life and grows into the woman I think she always wanted to be.
One of the prominent figures of the early 20th century cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston wrote about African American struggles in the American south. She grew up in Eatonville and uses it as backdrop for many of her works, the most popular of which is “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”