Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Captive Daughter, Enemy Wife: A Novel by Mary Tweedy

Rae’s Rantings on Books, Films, and Popular Culture

Captive Daughter, Enemy Wife
By Mary Tweedy
A Novel

In a Nutshell: Closely observed tale of tribal life among Native American tribes in French Canada in the late 1600’s. Contains scenes of bloodshed and ritual torture among warring Indian nations and towards European missionaries. Appropriate for middle-school children to adults.

The Story: White Corn is a Native American girl born into the village of Kandoucho, part of a North American Indian confederacy known as the Neutrals, so named (by the French) because they remained neutral in the wars between the Iroquois Confederacy and the Huron. Neutral economy was based on agriculture supplemented by game, which was plentiful in what is now southern Ontario, Canada, and western New York. White Corn’s mother is Hole-in-the-Night, a Neutral woman whose extraordinary beauty and cool remoteness marks her as an object of awe and even fear. White Corn’s father is a Neutral brave who succumbs to an infectious disease brought by the French Jesuits (or “Blackrobes”) that kills half the population of White Corn’s village when she is four years old. Shortly afterwards, a French fur trader named Jean Aregnac arrives in the village. He ingratiates himself with Hole-in-the-Night’s clan until she accepts him as her husband.

When Jean enters White Corn’s life, he treats her with an affection that augments the stern care she has received from her undemonstrative mother. Jean teaches White Corn to read and gives her a book of fairy tales in French, which will later be supplemented by a sheaf of Catholic prayers copied out by hand by a French Jesuit at a fort. Jean brings White Corn, Hole-in-the-Night, and their new son Papillon to this fort for safety, after the aggressive Iroquois destroy Kandoucho in a harrowing ordeal which they barely survive.
But despite finding temporary peace with a People living in the shelter of the European fort, White Corn and her family suffer more losses when they are again attacked by Iroquois on a fishing trip. White Corn, her mother and her brother are taken captive and brought to the Iroquois village where custom dictates that any prisoners who survive the ritual torture of the males and the initial enslavement of the females be adopted into the tribe to take the place of clan members who have died in war or sickness. White Corn’s captors face the challenges of assimilating (or killing) first the Neutral enemies and, later, two Jesuit enemies who come into tribal life by means of capture. White Corn and her family, meanwhile, must use every skill they have to survive in this enemy environment.

The Plusses:

1) Entertaining, painless gateway to early American history. Although not specifically classified as a Young Adult novel, this historical adventure novel would make a terrific introduction to the culture of the Native Americans of northeastern North American at the time of the French colonization in the New World. In particular, it would be an ideal text for a home school setting.

Did you ever want to know how Indians handled the diapering of infants and the safe care of babies around fire, sharp knives etc. – how did they baby-proof their longhouses? Did you wonder how sexual relations were carried out between spouses when several couples, their children, and their single elders all lived together in one longhouse? What did the Iroquois-speaking Native Americans think of the “Fur-Faces” – their name for the bearded Europeans who came into their villages for purposes of trade or evangelization? What games did the children play? How about the adults? What did they do on long winter nights without television? How did they construct their homes, make their clothing, and obtain their food?

I used to love reading the Little House on the Prairie books for their fascinating details on pioneer life – learning how the white settlers built their homes, planted crops, hunted game, cooked food, and weathered the extremes of both winter and summer in a harsh environment. Captive Daughter, Enemy Wife comes at the same topics from the viewpoint of the Native Americans of the Iroquois-speaking societies (the Neutral tribes spoke a language similar to Iroquois) of the seventeenth century.

2) Realistic, sympathetic treatment of the clash of cultures during the time that Native American peoples faced the extraordinary onslaught of European colonization of the U.S. and Canada. The French fur trade, the Dutch settlements, and the Jesuit missionary activity brought a tremendous change to the balance of power and way of life of the Native American tribes among whom they settled. Ultimately, the colonization of the New World meant the effective end of tribal life as The Peoples of North American had known it. They became a conquered people. Captive Daughter, Enemy Wife looks at the beginning of that process from the point of view of the Indian. We see how the introduction of foreign staples like guns and alcohol brought changes and challenges to the Native American tribes. We look at the impact of the Christian missionaries on tribal life, for good and for ill.

3) An appealing heroine surrounded by compelling characters. White Corn does not convert to the Christian religion, but her natural compassion and sense of justice gives her a connection to and sympathy for the Blackrobes that her fellow tribesmen for the most part do not share. White Corn experiences the rhythm of tribal life in a society where women hold positions of influence; the author relates story after story showing the humor and wisdom of the women elders whose common sense helps to hold the tribes together. The warriors too are given their due, and the reader experiences first-hand how war is conducted with an eye always towards honor.

4) Beautiful, assured writing style. This is Mary Tweedy’s first novel. She was educated in Art History, Classical Archaeology, Classical Languages and Anthropology, and her rich narrative style no doubt owes something to her study in each of these fields.

The Minuses:

Slow pace. White Corn’s story unfolds at a leisurely pace. If your preferred reading fare is thrillers, mysteries and other genre novels then you may become impatient with the slow unfolding of White Corn’s story. This is not a problem for those who savor a measured pace. In the last seventy-five pages of the book the plot heats up and the novel takes on more of the aspect of a thriller. I did not find the slow pace a bad thing, although in consequence I did not speed through the book as I do with more page-turning fare. The book works as a slow immersion into White Corn’s world of dramatically changing tribal life. By the time the plot takes on an urgent pace, the reader is completely absorbed by White Corn’s gentle yet sturdy personality and longs to see the resolution of her story.

Final Assessment: Remarkable rendition of a fascinating time in U.S. and Native American history from a point of view sympathetic to both Native American and European culture and experience.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Samuel Mann - the world's coolest thanatophoric dwarf!

Samuel Mann just keeps surprising his doctors and defying the odds. I've written about Samuel before. He was born with a condition known as thanatophoric dysplasia, the same form of dwarfism that my son Eric had.

Babies born with this condition have chest cavities that are too narrow to support normal lung development. They need a respirator in order to breathe. The condition is fatal, hence the term "thanatophoric" or "death-bearing". Most thanatophoric dwarfs die at birth. My son Eric lived for 100 days. February 18 marked the 29th anniversary of his death.

Eric lived his entire life out at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) of Wilmington Medical Center (now Christiana Care of Delaware).
I've written about him here, in an article published by Delaware Medical Journal in 1985. The article focused on how parents cope with an infant born with a fatal condition -- an infant seemingly "born to die." In it I conclude:

No-one knew from the outset how long [Eric] would live, so the decision to live in hope and not in fear meant, for Eric, a commitment to his development and to the kind of interpersonal interaction that can only benefit an infant. Length of life cannot be used as a measure of the depth of experience of that life. Eric had a very difficult life, but he experienced love and he carried on the very human struggle for survival in a body that ultimately failed him, as our bodies will ultimately fail us.

Our loving interaction with him was consistent with our view of the parents' role in the lives of their children. While allowing for the special limitations of this infant's life, we were able to use the same parental model in dealing with Eric, to his and our benefit.
Samuel Mann's parents also choose to love their son and support his development with all their strength. Loving interaction has proven an amazing boon to Samuel.

Samuel is now five years old! He is one of six surviving thanatophoric dwarfs world-wide. Samuel is at home, enjoying a life with physical restrictions, but he is mobile within his limitations, he eats, he laughs (
here he is at age three with his belly laugh) and, wonder of wonders, he can spend up to ten hours off his respirator, breathing on his own. This is amazing!

Read what his mom Evelyn reports. (Be sure to read her "One last story". It relates a casual encounter that everyone who has dealt with an intense situation will recognize):

Saturday, February 19, 2011 10:32 AM, CST

Hello Everyone,

We had a note worthy event last weekend that I thought I would share.

Here are two posts that I put on facebook last weekend:

Post 1: Samuel has been off the ventilator for 8 and a half hours now!!! Praise the Lord!!

Post 2: Ok, we thought it was time to put Samuel back on the vent after 9 hours. So we put him back on and for the next ten minutes he tried to take it off again. So now he is off the vent for ten hours by his choice!! Can you say WOW!!

He was off the ventilator until we put him to bed. The next day, Samuel did great. I thought it may have been too taxing for him but he did great!! He hasn't done that since. He has ways of letting us know that he wants his ventilator back : - ). We also make sure he is on the ventilator when he is sleeping.

So, this morning, Samuel wakes me up by pulling his trach out. (So the ventilator is working but no air is going in him because he pulled the tube out that goes into his neck.) I put it back in. He did it again. And he kept trying. So, now my tactic is to distract him so he can not "play" this way. He is happily bouncing in his new bouncer (this is his 6th bouncer in 5 years---he wore all the others out) and looking in the mirror at the handsome boy looking back at him. LOL!!

So the adventure of raising our sweet special boy continues. I am blessed to tears by the love of our church family and how they love on him every Sunday. The sunday before superbowl, Samuel was proudly tossing his toys on the floor to show off for four wonderful ladies who were loving on him. When he threw the toy the third time, one lady raised her arms in the air and said, "Touchdown, Samuel". I had tears streaming down my cheeks by their love and they joy they received from Samuel. It truly warmed my heart.

One last story. I was at the store returning a sweet gift we had received for Samuel for Christmas. It was long sleeves and a long pants. As these won't fit Samuel, we were exchanging them for something that had short sleeves. The sweet sales lady said, "Was there anything wrong with the items we were returning?" I had a split second to try to figure out how I was going to answer her question. Would I explain the special needs our son has or simply tell her the clothes didn't fit our son. So, instead of these fine options, I blurted out, "Our son is a dwarf." The nice sales girl didn't say a word and politely exchanged the items.

It was an odd moment for me. How do I share about sweet Sameul in 30 seconds or less. I want people to know that God does miracles today. Our son is a living breathing amazing work of God. My husband says he is God's alternate construction. I want people to know how rare our son is...the only survivor of 6 total worldwide that I know of. Thus showing more clearly the miracle of our son. I want people to see the beauty of our son's smile and the joy he exudes without saying a word. I want people to see Samuel and not his tubes and wires. I think for the most part, that is what people see because once you see his personality, the tubes and wires just melt away in the background.

I am a special needs mom and have been given an incredible gift to love on this sweet son we have been given by God as His miracle. I have an amazing husband who is the true unsung hero in this story. He wakes up for Samuel's every alarm at night and checks on him so I can get my rest. He knows that ventilator inside and out and he handles all the paperwork that goes along with a special needs child and coordinates all doctors, nurses and all therapy visits. When I prayed for a husband, God truly picked out the best one for me.

Thank you all for the beautiful comments and expressions of love that you leave in the guest book. I cherish and read each one. One day, we will have caringbridge bind them in a book for us. For now, I truly enjoy the love you share by leaving your comments. It has gotten me through many challenging days when Samuel was younger. Thank you for your continued prayers. We pray for the Lord to plant a hedge of protection around Samuel every day. We so need that. We thank you and covet your prayers.


Evelyn (Samuel's Mommy)

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

On Live Action's sting operations against Planned Parenthood, and the sin of lying

I will make no bones about the fact that I feel within myself and others in my sphere of activity a swirling of spiritual forces gathering around the 30+ years holocaust of the unborn that is abortion in America. The chickens are coming home to roost in the revelations of Dr. Gosnell's House of Horrors and Lila Rose's undercover sting operations in Planned Parenthood clinics. The Washington Post, not likely to exaggerate the numbers, reported 27,000 young people registered for the January March for Life youth activities. I myself attended the March for Life for the very first time, and I met several other old-time pro-lifers, first-timer attendees like myself -- what brought us out this year?

I call what I am experiencing a "swirling of spiritual forces". Folks of a different bent might call it a matter of political timing, a point in a social movement when the scales begin to tip in the direction of justice and away from the accepted wisdom that certain injustices are necessary or the body politic cannot thrive. I am thinking here of slavery, segregation, women's disenfranchisement -- three social movements of our own nation which fought an uphill battle for as long as social forces existed that could not see past the claims of the ones whose difficulties in this ever-difficult experiment we call life were alleviated by the imposition of legal injustice.

But my forte is spirituality, not politics, and my wisdom and experience are in the realm of the human spirit and its relationship to the divine. And so despite the fact that spiritual pundits are far less respected than political or social ones, I will speak freely in the realm of my own experience and wisdom.

Something is happening with abortion in America. We as a nation are reaching a tipping point. Is this the subject that will tip us over into an apocalypse, with all the other issues that we have to fear - the collapse of the dollar, the acrimony of the political environment, the blood sports of gouging each other over issues of marriage, sexuality, and family?

Who knows? I'm no Delphic oracle, not even a Cassandra... she the most tragic of all Greek prophetesses.

However, I have shed tears. Many tears. Salty, streaming tears, tears that shook my body, over the past two weeks. My tears are as telling to me as my joys.

All of this is just to preface a few links that have to do with the morality of the pro-life sting operations carried out by Lila Rose's Live Action group against Planned Parenthood. Lila Rose is one of my hero's. Yet because she is not fictional, and because she is not a figure of history but of right here and now -- my time! -- I am troubled by the fact that she is my hero.

For what is a hero? That's a topic way too broad for now. But, simply put, here is the question being raised and debated in the Catholic and pro-life blogosphere:

Is it moral to lie to Planned Parenthood?

I don't have time to untangle the links, but there's a good discussion started by Mark Shea at National Catholic Register. Read the discussions AND the comments.

The pro-life world doesn't need to agree on this, I don't think. It does need to not pull itself part due to the controversy. Everyone who is involved with the laudatory goal of exposing the basic wrong of Planned Parenthood's efforts needs to educate themselves, ruminate, pray, and be prepared to act with extraordinary charity and clarity over the coming months. Something is happening.

Can You Life for a Good Cause? by Mark Shea, at National Catholic Register and on his own blog, Catholic and Enjoying It.
Commenter Dale Price:
It sits in the same range of behavior as undercover police work, investigative reporting and whistleblowing. I am extremely curious to see whether or not moral theologians have weighed in on this.blockquote.

I guess I feel about Live Action the same way I feel about Chris Hansen's "To Catch a Predator" series on NBC. Given the systemic refusal of governmental agencies to regulate abortion clinics, this is the next best thing.

Truth, Love, and Live Action by Christopher O. Tollefsen. "The pro-life cause must be advanced by truth and by love, and it must be willing to engage in self-criticism when it fails to meet its own exacting standards."

It's a sin to lie, even to Planned Parenthood, by Reginaldus, moniker for a Catholic priest with a STB in Sacred Thelogy and a STL in Dogmatic Theology, over at The New Theological Movement :

Some (even Fr. Frank Pavone, on Catholic Connection with Teresa Tameo on the morning of February 2nd ) will claim that it is morally justifiable to lie to Planned Parenthood in order to expose the illegal activities of that organization. They will claim that the lie is justifiable because we are “at war” with Planned Parenthood. Here we make a twofold response: first, even in war, it is sinful to lie; second, we are not at war with Planned Parenthood. War is a conflict not between individuals or even between various groups of individuals, but between nations. The pro-life movement, technically, is not at war with the culture of death – if we were at war, it would be justifiable for individuals to kill abortion doctors; but it is not, since we are not at war. We are in a great struggle, a struggle which is far worse and far more costly than any war which the world has yet faced.

I think Abby Johnson's book Unplanned is a game-changer. I think her story shows the basic solidity of 40 Days for Life and its approach -- "by their fruits you will know them." Another 40 Days for Life campaign begins March 9. I am again a regional facilitator.

Truth and lies. Media. Truth in media. What's it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live? What's it all about, when you sort it out, Alfie? Are we meant to take more than we give? Or are we meant to be kind? And if only fools are kind, Alfie, then I guess it is wise to be cruel. And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie, what will you lend on an old golden rule? As sure as I believe there's a heaven above, Alfie, I know there's something much more, something even non-believers can believe in. I believe in love, Alfie. Without true love we just exist, Alfie.

Can it be that when the movie Alfie came out, in 1966, the chickens came home to roost for our hero in a shocking abortion scene? 45 years later, and we have few sensibilities left to shock.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Rolling rolling rolling, keep those doggies rolling

I am overdosing on polemics at the moment. I recognize within me an anger towards people I usually call "pro-choice" but am creeping towards throwing in the towel and labeling "pro-abortion". Yet, I am awash in a sea of relationships with pro-choice folks. My own mother was pro-choice. Some of my children are. Close friends are.

For what are we, human beings, if not perpetually awash in non-tidiness?

Oh, and I've got a miserable cold also. Ironically, two days after I received the blessing of the throat on St. Blaise's Day, I came down with the worst sore throat of the season. A reward for my hubris, or (as Bill says), I'd likely be in the E.R. without it. What's so common about the cold? And if they ever cure it, what will happen to the world?

Time to turn to the pleasures and conundrums of fiction. I will be hosting a blog tour of various newly published offerings of some of the cool writers I met at the Catholic Writers Conference in August. So... time to get into Fiction Mode.

I read The Man Who Was Thursday by Chesterton on my Kindle. I'd tried to read this a few years ago with no luck. Chesterton's fiction is like Flannery O'Connor's for me - I respect it because so many respectable people like it, but I've never really enjoyed it. It baffles me as to why not.

I found myself really missing the physicality of printed word on paper, bound together into a physical book, for the first time since I've gotten my Kindle. I got caught up in the story, but as it spun out into a wilder and wilder nightmare (as Chesterton labeled it), I lost my exhilaration. Then afterwards, I went and read Amazon reviews and the Wikipedia entry, and wanted to try it again.

For someone who loves fiction as much as I do, I have an obtuseness that I don't understand. For truly transcendant reading pleasure, I read poetry, theology and scripture. In fiction, I like the pleasure of the weird. The Man Who Was Thursday was definitely weird. But not weird enough? I really need to figure this out. The fiction that comes closest to the joy of poetry, scripture and theology for me is Stephen King. Weird, bloody, peopled with self-centered, mean-minded people with teeny tiny flecks of love creeping in.

Oh, and Leonard Cohen's music. It's awesome, Stephen King-like music. Judee Sills also. But "Anthem" is playing on my L. Cohen pandora station right now:

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack, in everything.
That's how the light gets in. That's how the light gets in.

We asked for signs, the signs were sent
The birth betrayed, the marriage spent
Yeah, the widowhood of every government
Signs for all to see

I can't run no more with that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places say their
prayers out loud
But they've summoned, they've summoned up a thundercloud
And they're going to hear from me

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.