Monday, March 4, 2013

A White Wind Blew by James Markert — 400 pgs

Waverly Hills isn’t the world’s most compelling Louisville destination during the 1930s, but it’s a popular one due to the severe tuberculosis epidemic going on all over the nation. As a doctor, Wolfgang Pike can’t do much for his patients but give them access to fresh air and perform experimental surgeries on them. But as a man who has music in his soul, he can offer the patients his musical talents, which seems to ease their aching bodies and tortured souls. Wolfgang, once a seminary student headed for the priesthood, finds now that his calling is here, at Waverly Hills, where illness is at an all time high. But things aren’t as easy as they seem for Wolfgang and his patients, for there is a colored hospital just around the hill that is being bombarded with threats from the newly reformed KKK, and his superior, Dr, Barker, is refusing to agree that music therapy is helping the patients. Meanwhile, a new patient arrives in a strange non-communicative state, and for some reason, Wolfgang knows that he will change the direction and the course of the hospital forever. Embarking on a plan to treat the entire hospital to a concert, Wolfgang will be sidetracked by racial tension and violence, ambivalence and hatred, and even the buddings of first love. In this stunning  new novel from author James Markert, a young man at a crossroads in his heart will come to the realization that he can’t save everyone, but the ones he can save will be forever marked upon his heart, and he will come to see that saying “yes” to God might not mean what he thought it meant.

This was a book that took me by surprise with its profundity. When the first chapters were read, I felt unconnected to Wolfgang and his plights, but as I moved further and further through the book, it was impossible not to feel a connection with a man who was so broken, yet who was rapidly trying to assemble himself for the betterment of his patients. Just as the patients were sucuumbing to death at a rapid pace, Wolfgang’s resentments and bitterness were dying as well, and the more Markert revealed about his tragic past, the easier it was for me to see that Wolfgang was beyond a complicated man. He was brave, loyal, and felt guilt to the bottom of his soul for the things that he could not control.

There was a segment in the back of the book about this particular hospital, and conservative estimates place the death toll at around 60,000 when the hospital was at its most active. Markert seeks to explore the ways that the treatment for tuberculosis before the advent of antibiotics was a losing battle, and one that was fought with bravery—for those treating the patients were as likely to contract the disease as not. In this novel, the reader can see just how many lives were impacted, and how the rapidity of the disease ruined families and cast suspicion upon those towns that surrounded Waverly Hills. Portions of this book were rather bleak to read, for the spreading of disease was so random, and often cruel, but Markert made all his characters fully three-dimensional and supplemented fact with fiction to create a tale that was breathtaking.

Wolfgang is not only dealing with the losses and broken relationships and pieces of himself, but also with a racism that is so strong that it threatens his dreams of bringing the hospital unity with the performance that he is struggling to build. He has many willing patients to sing and play instruments, and the fact that so many musicians and vocal talents lived up on the hill should reveal that this disease sought to destroy the lives of all walks of people, not only the poor and destitute. When a heinous racial crime takes the hospital by surprise, it’s Wolfgang and his special patient that keep hearts and minds at the hospital limber and ready to act against a perpetrator that hides among them. There really is so much to say about this book that I can’t do it all here. Secrets, lies and murder battle with confession, truth and forgiveness to produce a balm that strokes the heart in its final movement.

I loved this book, and I really wasn’t sure that I was going to like it very much at all. It does seem to have a bit of a slow start, but readers who will get past that first interlude will find themselves handsomely rewarded for their patience and determination. The questions and answers in this book leave me very reflective, and because of this, I would have to say that in the end, this will probably make one of my favorite books of the year.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

14 comments:

Book Dilettante said...

Music therapy...yaah! Sounds like a profound historical look at bleak times in medicine., A book I'd be proud to have on my shelves!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds like a lovely book! Thanks for bringing it to our attention!

Vasilly said...

Your review of A White Wind Blew makes the book sound amazing. At first, it didn't sound like a book for me but your thoughts changed my mind. Thanks for letting us know what you really think of it.

Alison Skap said...

This book was not on my radar at all, but after reading your review, it's on my MUST read list! Great review, thank you!

Suko said...

This sounds wonderful, thanks to your fantastic review! Isn't it terrific when a book greatly exceeds your expectations?!

Ti said...

Nice job!! I enjoy this time period and I love anything that has to do with medical science. When I fell ill and could not get this crud out of my chest, I kept thinking about how so many people died back in the day due to antibiotics not being around.

bermudaonion said...

The fact that this is based on a real hospital appeals to me. I'm glad this one was better than you expected.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I LOVE the sound of this one. I am not familiar with the title, so now I have to put it on my wishlist -- (like I need another book) Awesome review!

Charlie (The Worm Hole) said...

It sounds quite a difficult read, but you saying it's likely to be one of your favourites this year brings a completely different view to it. I don't read much about hospitals, but I do love music, so maybe I should look for it.

Brooke said...

I recently saw this book at Barnes and Noble and feel in love with the cover despite knowing absolutely nothing about the story inside. So thank you for this lovely review and convincing me this would be a good addition to my collection. Medical history always suckers me in!

Aarti said...

Like Brooke, I really like the cover - it's lovely. So glad that the story was so moving as well, even if it did start slow. It is wonderful sometimes how many different things can help to heal us :-)

Lisa said...

Wow - you went from being unconnected after the first few chapters and ended up loving this one? That's quite a feat for a book to accomplish.

Literary Feline said...

There seems to be a lot more to this book than at first meets the eye. I think I saw mention of this one recently and wondered if it'd be good--and here is your review! I am glad you ended up liking it, Heather. It sounds like something I'd like too.

Buried In Print said...

As I'm just reading an Alice Munro story about a teacher at one of the sanitariums, this review caught my eye immediately: what fascinating times. And isn't it odd that sometimes a book like this, which we weren't sure about to begin with, can end up such a powerful reading experience. I've added this one to my list: thanks!

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