Saturday, January 29, 2011

197 (2011 #2). Stranger Here Below

by Joyce Hinnefeld

Stranger Here Below is an unusual book that centers on five women:  Amazing Grace "Maze" Jansen and Mary Elizabeth "M. E." Cox, roommates at Berea College in Kentucky in the early 1960s; their mothers Visitor "Vista" Combs Jansen and Sarah Henry Cox, and Shaker Sister Georgia, Georginea Fenley Ward, a former professor at Berea, now living at nearby Pleasant Hill.

Hinnefeld's narrative moves from character to character, back in forth in time (spanning 1872 to 1968) and location (mostly Kentucky but some in Chicago and New York and even Paris).  It can be a little hard to follow at times, but the table of contents helps.  Racial issues of the eras (M.E. and Sarah are black, as was Georginea's boyfriend) and resistance to the Vietnam War play a part in the story.  Music is important, too:  the classics M. E. plays on the piano, the dances Maze attends, the old hymns both girls sing together and with Georgia.  The book's title comes from an old hymn, "The Pilgrim's Song," in The Southern Harmony by William Walker.

Mostly, though, it's the story of the interrelationships of these five women.  Maze and M. E. in particular are very well developed.  Hinnefeld's writing is descriptive and evocative.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[I won a hardbound copy of this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, with the expectation that I would write a review which is also published on their site. The book will be donated to the library.]

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