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Saturday, April 14, 2007
Department of Book Reports 12th Generation
Posted by Tammy
Kinfolks: falling off the family tree: The Search for My Melungeon Ancestors. By Lisa Alther, (Arcade Publishing, $25.00)
I happen to feel that the degree of a person's intelligence is directly reflected by the number of conflicting attitudes she can bring to bear on the same topic.
Lisa Alther, in Kinflicks, 1975
Lisa (pronounced 'Liza") Alther has given us a memoir of her times. Lisa was one of the most influential authors I read in my young womanhood, along with Cynthia Heimel. I actually got to sell Cynthia a copy of Coffin for a Cutie and when I remarked to the disheveled red-head that it reminded me of a favorite book, she replied, "I love it too! I had the art department put the shoes on my first book!" We both said Sex Tips for Girls! in unison, and I was able to gush on and on and generally make a fool of myself.
I have not had the opportunity to genuflect before Lisa till now. I was the paperback sales rep for New American Library back when her novels Original Sins and Other Women were published so I was evangelic about Lisa's work to the greater Northwest.
In Kinfolks, she looks back at the times of her life that produced those novels, and gives us a generous history lesson along the way. In tracing her families' genealogy, she takes a side excursion into the history of Appalachia, both the southern end she grew up in Tennessee and Virginia and the northern reaches of the mountain range in Vermont, where she raised her children. Comparing the Church announcement boards in the south to the northern bumperstickers, she picks daily winners, "Give Satan an inch and He'll become your Ruler" "Silence is Golden, but Duct Tape is Silver".
Along the way, we meet snake-handlers and the blue-blooded members of the Virginia club, whose members must have been born in Virginia and meet mostly to discus the inferiority of the Tennessee they reside in. Just up the road is Erwin, TN, where the circus owner hung his elephant in 1916. At Lake Champlain, the entire Alther family saw the elusive "Champ", the sea serpent supposedly descended from plesiosaurs.
Tracing the 1539 discovery expedition of de Soto, we find perhaps some of the early forebears of the Melungians. This is a wonderful overveiw of the southern wilderness before the establishment of the Roanoke colony. It's whet my appetite for taking on the volume Rev. Jerry praises so highly, 1491.
Lisa first heard of the Melungians from a babysitter who once told Lisa and her brother that "The Melungeons has got six fingers on each hand...They grab mean little chilrun and carry them off to their caves outside of town." Thus lasted a childhood fear, that would turn to curiosity when an un-known fourth cousin published a book about their Melungeon ancestry. Even the details of the minutiae of genealogical research are laced with wicked humor. It takes modern days DNA testing to provide some answers, but it also brings even more questions.
democommie™™™™®© could not help on this book report because he has absolutely no Melungeon ancestors.
Kinfolks is available at Jackson Street Books and fine independent booksellers everywhere.