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by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Category: Fiction / Historical
0 pages; ISBN: 1-59129-550-5

Rating: 9/10  (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Diana Redman - my writing pseudonym


'The meat on the bones of family'

"My city is like a saltwater pearl" are the opening words of Carolyn Howard-Johnson's new novel Harkening and they sum up the complete anthology of times remembered; each glimpse of family life, yet another gem carefully threaded next to its neighbour, the whole making up the circle of life.

Howard-Johnson's descriptive talents are at times, unsurpassed - her imagery shining through in her recall of Mom-Bertie's embroidery skills as she "pushed her blunt needle under the canvas threads and pulled the yarn out, stretched it into a taut, pink line and started the process again." She not only shows us graphically, the task of sewing but weaves the whole process into a conversation where, at times, the older lady never once takes her eyes from the canvas she is stitching.

As the days become shorter, the nights cooler and the air crisper, those amongst us who feel the urge to write about this time of year can usually find words to inspire us, but the similes that Howard-Johnson finds to portray this most poignant of seasons are beautiful. "Fall was best. Slanted rays gathered the leaf-colors from the hills. Molten sulfur. Pink copper. The rust of iron oxide. They collected themselves into squares the color of sun tea on my bedspread, lengthening into rectangles on the floor where they warmed my little bedside rug." Beautiful, beautiful imagery.

The whole collection of stories charts the generations of her family and we the reader are treated to a glimpse of them through a magical window into the past. Poignant memories that stir the soul: the death of a loved one in wartime; the harshness of the winter; the cruelty of a child's taunt; the bleakness of the depression. Hand-me-down clothes that had to be 'made do' and the task of sifting the carefully labelled and lovingly cherished trinkets so that each family member received their designated one.

This is the stuff that genealogists crave - the meat on the bones of family. Harkening is a treasure chest of all that we should hold dear - our memories.

Yvonne J Richards
October 2002
Author and co-founder of Pathfinder Paperbacks
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