Saturday, July 29, 2017

"The Lost History of Stars"

A native of south Chicago, Dave Boling is a sports columnist in the Seattle area. His first novel, the international best-selling Guernica, was translated into 13 languages with an English-language edition sold worldwide. Prior to becoming a journalist, Boling was a football player at the University of Louisville, an ironworker in Chicago, a logger in the Pacific Northwest, a bartender and bouncer, and a laborer in a car factory and in steel mills. He took up fiction writing at age 53.

Boling applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Lost History of Stars, and reported the following:
Trying to inhabit the mind of my female narrator, Aletta Venter, I interviewed a fair number of psychologists--all women. I probed their insights into coping and survival mechanisms that might help an early teen girl stay strong and resilient in the face of overwhelming circumstances.

The Brits had torched much of the South Africa veld during the Anglo-Boer War at the turn of the 20th century. After burning the Boers’ homes, the Brits interned the women and children in lethally mismanaged concentration camps. It was a grim slice of history that has been largely overlooked.

So, how could Aletta, a small but determined insurgent, find the courage to not only survive, but continue fighting her private war against the might of an empire? The doctors agreed she would be in a transitional time of life, dealing with a turbulent confluence of powerful factors. All the usual adolescent issues of self-doubt, uncertainty and hormonal changes would be incalculably compounded by the influences of fear, malnutrition, and the profound emotions of loss.

Within this high-pressure crucible, she would need an unbending inner purpose. And for sanity, she would be driven to latch on to any shred of normalcy and grip it like a life-line.

The scene that is already under way when come to Page 69 has Aletta with her new best friend, Janetta, who was far more worldly, having grown up in a town rather than on the remote veld. Aletta discovers that Janetta has kissed a boy at school, and wants Janetta to teach her how it’s done. On Page 68, Janetta tells Aletta that her lips must be shaped as if to whistle, but Aletta has trouble doing it without actually whistling. She feels hopelessly na├»ve. In the last sentence of Page 68, Aletta asks about the eyes--what should she do with her eyes?

From page 69:
“Closed … you’re supposed to do that.”

I thought that was terrible advice … you might miss, or go too slowly or too fast. Wouldn’t seeing it be part of the experience?

“Like this …” She leaned toward me, eyes closed. Her breath touched me first, and her lips settled lightly on the apple of my cheek.

“Now you,” she said.

I stared at her cheek, estimating the range before closing my eyes and easing in. I felt softness and warmth, and tiny pale hairs against my lips.

“That’s right,” she said, “but soft, and keep your eyes closed.”

I leaned in again, but softer.

“Like that,” she said. “Good.”
The scene is several pages long, and serves as a tender counterpoint. Aletta otherwise sustains her purposeful acts of resistance, of minor heroism and compassion, but in this scene, she’s merely finding her way on the path toward being a young woman.
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--Marshal Zeringue