My quest for spring has been thwarted at every turn.
I began by looking for books with the word “spring” in the title. That would be the perfect way, I thought, to help me over the hump of these last few days of a nasty winter, which have left me (and perhaps many of you?) grumbly, and longing for the warmth of the sun.
I began with Matthew Skelton’s Endymion Spring (2006, filed in the Lennoxville Library under Young Adult). Just like its hero, 12-year-old Blake, I was surprised to discover that “Endymion Spring was a person, and not a season.”
Oh well. I read it anyway. Blake is an unhappy boy, insecure and jealous of his younger, smarter sister. She gets all the attention, he gets all the trouble. His parents have split and the kids are with their mother, who is very busy researching a book at Oxford U. Blake and sis spend much of their time being watched by a librarian at the Bodleian, that fabulous (and real) repository of ancient books… books that Blake barely notices. Reading is hard. Letters seem to disintegrate before his eyes: “He couldn’t pay attention.”
The librarian tries: “Mrs. Richards made books seem magical, almost fun, whereas his mother turned them into work.”
One day Blake finds a book with passages in it that only he can see; his sister makes fun of his obsession with a tome filled with blank pages.
Blake’s story alternates with the tale of Endymion, an apprentice who lived in 1452, just as Gutenberg is shaping the very first hot type. The book is Endymion’s – or rather, the book chooses Endymion, as it chooses all those who may read it.
The parallel stories eventually come together, of course. Skelton’s plot connects that first printer, Gutenberg, with other historical shards, creating an imaginative tale of magic (and the magic of books). While filed in YA, this book will be best appreciated by younger teens (or youngsters with high reading levels).
I moved along to the next book. Ah! I thought. Snowdrops are flowers that pop up in late winter; they are harbingers of the impending spring. The book Snowdrops, by A.J. Miller (2010, filed in Adult Fiction), seems the perfect seasonal read.
Oh, it’s a fine novel, set in contemporary Moscow. The narrator is Nick Platt, a lost soul, lawyer and British expat on a great adventure, buying in to no-holds-barred capitalism. His job is to throw the bank’s millions at shady Russian entrepreneurs.
Yes, Platt is in a place where officials gravely announce suicides: “The governor has shot himself in the head – twice.”
This book is Platt’s letter to his intended bride, a woman he met after he abandoned Russia. It is a psychological portrait. A confession.
While living in Moscow, he lost his way. It is a small thing. But he must admit all to his fiancée, before she marries him.
It is also a fabulous sketch of Moscow (“We were eating beef stroganoff in the French restaurant at the back of the Smolensky shopping centre, where the mistresses of the minigarchs go to drink overpriced tea between pedicures”). And also a portrait of winter itself: “When snow falls, ugly things become beautiful.” As for snowdrops, they are “the sins the winter hides, sometimes forever.”
There is no spring here.
In a sombre mood, I gave up. I picked up Snow Falling In Spring: Coming Of Age In China During The Cultural Revolution (2008, filed in Young Adult). This is Moying Li’s memoir of the aftermath of the civil war that resulted in Chairman Mao Tse-Tung’s despotic rule. She comes of age during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. It was a time of terror.
Li’s family was well off, making them targets.
But in the very beginning, the People’s Republic Of China was founded with the best wishes of its populace, seeking a better life.
On orders from the government, sparrows were shot by the thousands, because they were vermin that ate the food grown in the fields. But the mass murder was followed by a plague of insects, their numbers out of control because of the disappearance of their predators.
“By 1962 three disastrous years had finally passed. We had survived the Great Leap, the drought, and the starvation. But the grownups seemed to have lost some of their exuberance. They were still eager for their causes, but a hint of caution was added to their voices… ‘Ignorance,’ Baba said. ‘That’s our enemy. In the future we need to educate ourselves.’”
Of course the enemy turned out to be more than that. The enemy was within, a mix of willful ignorance, dehumanizing ideology, power and fear.
The language and structure of this memoir is directed at young adults, but it deserves a wider readership.
In the end, as we know, Mao died, and China has moved away from the Chairman’s horrific excesses.
As Li writes, “On that early spring day, an unseasonable snow was falling, but I could see golden daffodils peeking out through the frozen ground.”
When least expecting it, I found spring.
* * *
And now — now I can cope.
There’s always the possibility of a bit more snow in these next few days. No problem.
I can again appreciate a little boy named Peter, and his joy at newly fallen snow. Peter’s perfect morning is told in The Snow Day, a Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book by Ezra Jack Keats (1962, filed in C-30).
This is a celebration, with Peter jumping about and building a smiling snowman and making an angel.
Don’t miss your last chance to play in the snow.
– Eleanor Brown, March 13, 2015