faintingviolet’s #CBR4 #47: The Summer of the Great-grandmother by Madeleine L’Engle
A friend of mine has a blog where she discusses her feminist ideals as well as books which relate to feminism. She gathers ideas for what to read from varying sources and reads across a wide range of genre and time. The Summer of the Great-grandmother was difficult for her to track down, so I borrowed it for her from my library system(sshhh don’t tell them). When she returned the book to me she suggested that I read it as well, since some of the topics covered are of interest to us both. I figured why not?
I am not disappointed in my choice to read Ms. L’Engle’s book. In fact, I should probably announce right from the beginning that this is the only L’Engle book I have ever read (yes, that means that I have not read A Wrinkle in Time). I did not know what to expect as far as authorial style but I must say that I was pleased to spend several evenings in the company of Ms. L’Engle and her family. For, although the book does focus on the end of life care for the titular great-grandmother, L’Engle’s own mother, it also delves into the various stories of those who came before – sometimes tracking Ms. L’Engle’s roots back to her three times great-grandparents and the type of life they led in the early 19th century. In fact, as Ms. L’Engle was born in 1918 many of the stories she recounts take place in 19th century America, and more specifically in the post-Antebellum South.
I was born in the north, and raised in the South. I am of two minds about almost anything. I have a cutting Northeast-based way of handling coworkers and friends, but sink back into a more demure, Southern way of handling instances where I feel put-upon or diminished. L’Engle very effectively shows the reader the various strings of familial ties which led to her own personality and that of her mother as they are both simultaneously of two worlds.
The book is broken up into sections which travel in reverse time order. The first section deals with the great-grandmother as she was that final summer – sinking into the debilitating effects of atherosclerosis. The second focuses on the mother of Ms. L’Engle’s memory, where the reader learns not only about the great-grandmother, but of the author in equal doses. The third focuses on the great-grandmother’s life before the birth of her only child at age 38, as L’Engle describes “the mother I could never truly know” and the family history of ‘tell me a story’. The final portion of the book deals with L’Engle’s experience during her mother’s death.
This is not a light fluffy read, nor is it a lecture. It is merely the musings of a highly educated and highly imaginative woman as she deals with the decisions we will all likely face. How do we decide what’s best for our loved ones at the end of their lives? I couldn’t recommend this one more highly.