Walter Cummins on Otherworldly Intrigue in The Etruscan

I was delighted to see that critic and writing teacher Walter Cummins, mentor to generations of writers, included his review of my first novel The Etruscan, originally published in The Literary Review, in his new anthology of reviews and essays Knowing Writers (2017)

His generous review cuts through to what is for me the essence of the novel: the clash and fusion of the mythic and the temporal, gothic and modernism, romance and reality, Italian cynicism and Yankee yearning for spirit and beauty.  My own life plays out, frazzled but energized, in the midpoints of those binaries.

This novel grew out of my exploration of the storied Etruscan landscape and my sojourn in an ancient house. It was nurtured by my literary studies of the Brontes and the gothic, DH Lawrence and Italy,  Henry James, Vita Sackville West, and Daphne Du Maurier, as well as by my research into the lives of early twentieth century women travelers.

Here are some highlights from his review. The full text may be accessed at Cummins on The Etruscan 

“Among the pleasures of The Etruscan are a compelling plot, intriguing characters, vivid sense of place, strong descriptive writing. But Linda Lappin’s principal achievement – and greatest challenge – may be found in her realization of Count Federigo Del Re and the strange power he exerts over the novel’s heroine, Harriet Sackett. 

Lappin’s task -or that of any writer who wishes to create a Federigo Del Re- is convincing the reader to share Harriet’s complex, almost otherworldly, obsession with the man. In The Etruscan she succeeds.

While the novel has a twenty-first century publication date and a twentieth-century setting, many of its narrative strategies are Victorian, with the Gothic overtones found in writers like the Brontes. Del Re is clearly a Byronic figure in the tradition of Rochester and Heathcliffe. Mystery lies at the heart of the story-for much of the novel the question of what happened to Harriet in Italy and, even after the final page, the nature of what draws her to Del Re.

Two realities are contrasted, that of Edwardian perspectives of Wimbly, the Hamptons, and the Hampton’s housekeeper, Mrs Parsons, and that of Harriet’s immersion in another realm. Lappin presents the attitudes and perceptions of Wimbly, the Hamptons, and Mrs Parsons in close third person. But Harriet emerges directly through her first-person diary, a document like that found in many traditional novels. The physical diary itself becomes an object of contention, with Stephen trying to burn it, Mrs Parsons rescuing it, and Sarah preserving the final, torn out page until its content is revealed on the very last pages of the novel. The Italian settings are certainly Gothic, the ancient homes, the treacherous landscapes, the Etruscan tombs. Because of Lappin’s exact descriptions, they are very convincing” –Walter CumminsKnowing Writers: Essays & Reviews

Thank you Walter
The Etruscan is available on kindle.
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008KM69YQ

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Shelley Buck’s EAST: A Woman on the Road to Katmandu — a review

 

London, 1971 found me clad in  floral granny skirts and red hiking boots, spending several hours a week washing dishes for my work scholarship  in the underground kitchen of the Eckerd College Gower Street student residence, staring through a window at  feet shuffling by.  My many free hours were taken up with rambles on Hampstead Heath, nights at the Paris Pullman, countless visits to the British Museum and V&A, and general street haunting.  Russell Square and the adjacent area were packed with Oriental booksellers and antiquarians which drew me like a magnet. I acquired an Arabic dictionary, a Buddha statue and a map of Tibet.  I also purchased Overland to India  by Douglas Brown,  the hippy guide to land travel across the Eurasian continent through Turkey,  Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to India.  Although I dreamed of dropping out of college and making that  journey – a few of my friends had done so,  I only got as far as the eastern tip of Crete, before backtracking to Italy where I have been based ever since.  I didn’t have the guts or the funds  to undertake such a trip alone.  But Shelley Buck, author of  EAST: A Woman on the Road to Katmandu, did.

Her book opens with a bizarre coincidence right out of a fairy tale.  Researching material for this memoir of her 1972 journey, she searches for the out-of- print Overland  guide which she had once owned but discarded.  The densely annotated, used paperback she finally locates turns out to be her very own copy, which launched into the ocean of time, now washed up at her feet. What more proof could you want  that synchronicity –the mysterious quality of time which fuses unrelated events into cohesive, magical meanings –actually exists?

Being in the right place in the right time  — traveler’s luck — is important in her story, embodied in the talisman she picks up : an ancient coin stamped with the blurred face of Alexander the Great.   And luck will follow her as she sails unharmed through danger– clashes with border guards, interrogations by secret police in Iran, unwanted attention from grabby men, hepatitis.   Like Alexander, she is moved by a deep yearning or Pothos to go east, to see palaces and princes dreamed about in childhood.

While saving money for her trip, the author worked in a lab in California, studying diseased tissues from cadavers.  One day it’s a breast she must dissect, and she  is struck by how much it resembles a Tibetan stupa.  This epiphany is a prompting from Kali, the goddess of great transformations, urging her not to delay, and underlining the nascent feminism in her journey. Stunned when a young man refuses to travel with her—because he is afraid they will be hassled, she sets out on her own to prove to herself that she can do it and  indeed she triumphs —  like Alexandra David Neel on her harrowing trip to Lhasa, she shows the world that a woman can make it through.

Throughout her travels, Buck is sensitive to the condition of women in these eastern countries,  of  the physical and mental freedom she enjoys as a westerner.  In Herat she buys a decorative strip of a nomad’s veil, patterned with geometrical figures representing dancing women.  This handwoven textile, testimony to women’s work and status, invites her to interrogate her own place in the dance and her kinship with strangers.  She asks: “Was I somehow in that dancing line, too, though in so many ways my life was so different from the lives of women who tended camels and tents?  ….Was I at core so different?”  Later, trying to communicate with a Tibetan woman across the language barrier, she writes   “For a few seconds, we gaze at each other across about a thousand years.”

Shelley Buck writes with  immediacy, wit, vivid color, and verve weaving in strands of history alongside wry observations on herself and her traveling companions.  East  is a compelling and delicious book to take along on a journey, or just while armchair dreaming, evoking exotic atmospheres and the joys and mishaps of traveling very rough.  This was all long before the advent of special  garments and accessories, like the she-wee, made life a bit easier on the road for women travelers.  The squeamish will squirm at some of the sanitary conditions she describes with humor, and also graphic details.

Many of the places she visited with such freedom are inaccessible to most western travelers these days,  and dangerous for men as well as women.  Wandering into territories explored by Peter Levi in The Light Garden of the Angel King, Buck sweeps you up on an exciting vintage adventure, in the  heroic days of backpacking when young people struck out on  solo adventures in a world where borders were thresholds to new experiences, not locked doors.

—  Linda Lappin

Title:  East: A Woman on the Road to Katmandu.  Author:  Shelley Buck

Publisher  http://epicaro.com/epicaro_press.htm

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