Saturday, January 23, 2010

THE book for me: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

My interest was peaked recently by the book to the left as it was described on one site as "in the vein of Gone with the Wind". Roses by Leila Meachum is a multi-generational saga which tells the story of an eastern Texas family involved in the timber and cotton industries. I am very interested in reading this book especially if its anything like GWTW.

I'm sure everyone has one book that they adore so much that their cherished copy is falling apart from the many times they've read it. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell was that book for me. I fell in love with Rhett Butler and admired the spirit of Scarlett O'Hara (and made countless innocent victims sit through the entire 3+ hour movie with me). As with many beloved books there are often many other books that pop up that continue to tell the stories of the characters. Take Pride and Prejudice for instant. I cannot go into the fiction section of Barnes and Noble and sneeze without hitting a P&P themed book. Not so with Gone with the Wind. There have been very few that have taken up the story of Scarlett and Rhett and the fall of the south but I will highlight them here.
First the original: I know some people are daunted by the size of the book so I will just leave you with the words of this reviewer on Amazon which perfectly describes my feelings on the book:
"Gone with the Wind is one of those rare books that we never forget. We read it when we're young and fall in love with the characters, then we watch the film and read the book again and watch the film again and never get tired of revisiting an era that is the most important in our history. Rhett and Scarlet and Melanie and Ashley and Big Sam and Mammy and Archie the convict are characters who always remain with us, in the same way that Twain's characters do. No one ever forgets the scene when Scarlet wanders among the wounded in the Atlanta train yard; no one ever forgets the moment Melanie and Scarlet drag the body of the dead Federal soldier down the staircase, a step at a time. Gone with the Wind is an epic story. Anyone who has not read it has missed one of the greatest literary experiences a reader can have."-- James Lee Burke, bestselling author of The Tin Roof Blowdown
Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley was billed as the sequel to GWTW and was actually the only book authorized by Margaret Mitchell's estate. Of course everyone wants to know what happened with Scarlett and Rhett as we were all left hanging at the end of the book and movie. Well, Scarlett delivered a story that would have been delightful had it been just a stand alone book about different characters but like many I felt that this one went against Mitchell's writing style and most certainly would not have been where she went with the characters had she decided to write a sequel. Entertaining-yes, but some of the biggest characters from the original barely had a part in this sequel and while the Scarlett goes to Ireland idea is an interesting premise I just didn't feel that the actions in the book stayed true to her character. I am all for letting a book stand on its own and not meticulously comparing it to the orignal but when it goes so far out of the realm of the original its a little tough to swallow. Give this a shot if you are a reader who can't fathom not knowing how the story ends.
The Wind done Gone by Alice Randall is what some call a parody on Gone with the Wind. It is written from the point of view of the slaves of Tara plantation and is narrated by Cynara who is alleged to be Scarlett's half sister. I liked this one because it gave me new insight into some of the characters from the original book. I LOVED Mammy (and Hattie McDaniel deserved the 1940 Oscar she won for the role). It was nice to see Mammy (and the other slaves at Tara) in a new light.
Most recently on the market is Daniel McCaig's Rhett Butler's People released in 2007. I really liked seeing the more vulnerable Rhett Butler in this book. Many did not judging by the reviews. I think the problem here is every time a GWTW type book does come out people are clinging to the hope that the new work will somehow surpass the original. Enhance-maybe. Surpass? Not gonna happen. If the reader goes into RBP with that in mind and stop constantly making comparisons to the original, I think they might really enjoy it.
The three books above are the only ones I know of that have come out and tried to breathe new life in to these characters. I truly wish there were more authors that would be willing to take a stab at this classic (understanding that issues with receiving permission from the estate may prevent this). A girl can hope though can't she?
There are however, two epic non-GWTW sagas that I can wholeheartedly recommend.
Alex Haley's Roots and Queen were both absolutely brilliant. Based on Haley's own family history Roots starts with the kidnapping of Kunta Kinte (marvelously played by LeVar Burton in the mini-series) from the African continent and follows the story of his family for the next 200 years.
Queen tells the saga of Haley's father's family. Both have such a richness of character and a magical weaving of story that once picked up I couldn't put them down even though both are close to 800 pages. This is hard to do with such a weighty topic and the author does it very well.
So here's hoping Roses turns out the be good enough to earn a place in my heart next to Gone with the Wind.

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