J U L Y 1 9 9 5
by Phoebe-Lou Adams
The Sea of Galilee Boat
by Shelley Wachsmann.
Plenum, 444 pages, $24.95.
In January of 1986 the Lufan brothers, of Kibbutz Ginosar,
on the northwest banks of the Sea of Galilee, reported their discovery of what looked like the
remains of an old boat stuck in the mud flats that had appeared when the lake's
water level fell in response to a drought. Mr. Wachsmann, an archaeologist
experienced in Mediterranean diving work, was sent to investigate. It was
indeed an old boat--roughly 2,000 years old. Mr. Wachsmann's account of the
resurrection of this unique relic records a fine mixture of improvisation,
unexpected help, near disaster, and random interference. Word of the find got
out early, inspiring press reports of "the Jesus boat"; the usual rumors of
sunken treasure; a small turf war; and the arrival of TV teams, tourists,
pilgrims, and rubberneckers, followed by the appearance of a truck-based
refreshment stand. Mr. Wachsmann and his largely volunteer crew meanwhile
burrowed in the mud and worried about rising water, for the drought had ended.
There is more to the text than digging. Mr. Wachsmann includes Galilean
legends, comparisons with other archaeological sites, information about ceramic
styles and dating methods, and local history derived from the Romanized Jew
Josephus Flavius, whose work Mr. Wachsmann compares to a history of the
American Revolution by Benedict Arnold. Archaeology is known to be hard work.
With limited time and funds it can be considered epic. The recovery of the
Galilee boat was an epic enterprise.
by Paul Hayes Tucker.
Yale, 260 pages, $40.00.
Professor Tucker is well aware that books about Monet are
frequent and, thanks to Monet himself, usually beautiful. But is there anything new to be written
about the painter's life, as opposed to the display of his work? Professor
Tucker believes he has found a new point--Monet's money. By examining surviving
sales records he has determined that except for one brief period, Monet's
income compared favorably with that of doctors and lawyers, although the artist
"would continue to claim he was penniless and beg friends for spare change."
The author attributes that practice to extravagance, a habit of living the good
life and spending more than he had. Professor Tucker does not, however, attempt
any estimate of Monet's professional expenses for paint, canvas, and travel on
his sometimes prolonged forays in search of subject matter; nor does he
consider the erratic timing of a painter's sales and the payment for them. The
author's discussion of Monet's choice of motifs and their relation to social
and political aspects of the time is useful. His attempts to find revelations
of Monet's domestic life in the canvases end in useless speculation. The book's
illustrations are generous and predictably a visual delight.
Of Love and Other Demons
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, translated by Edith Grossman.
Knopf, 147 pages, $21.00.
Love is the least of the demons at large in Mr. Marquez's
ironically titled novel about decaying Spanish control in a Latin American colony. The time
appears to be the eighteenth century, and the action presents the extensive and
eerie effects of a bite by a rabid dog. Like most of Mr. Marquez's work, the
novel is provocative, multi-faceted, and brilliantly readable.
Epitaph for a Peach
by David Mas Masumoto.
HarperSanFrancisco, 237 pages, $20.00.
Mr. Masumoto is a third-generation Japanese agriculturalist
in California, where he owns and operates a peach and grape farm. His endangered peach is the
Sun Crest, which is everything a peach should be in flavor, perfume, juiciness,
and texture. His lyrical description of this fine fruit is enough to make a
peach lover drool and also weep, for the Sun Crest has no shelf life and is
therefore rejected by those shippers who provide chain stores with the
pretty-colored, flawless-skinned, rock-hard, and tasteless objects that achieve
punky decay but never edibility. Mr. Masumoto decided to gamble four seasons on
defense of his Sun Crests, and his account of the battle covers the pleasures
and perils of fruit farming where nature intended a desert. It includes small
triumphs over insect invaders and total defeat by rain on the raisin crop; the
cohesion of a multi-generation family work team and the unkind neighborly
competition for hired crews; childhood memories and meditations on the
character of dumps. Anyone who thinks farming is dull will have that view
corrected by Mr. Masumoto's charming and often exciting tale, and anyone who
deplores the disappearance of truly good fruit will share his distress over the
substitution of mere endurance for fine quality.
The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon
edited and with an introduction by Elliott Ashkenazi.
Louisiana State, 504 pages, $34.95.
Clara Solomon, of New Orleans, kept a diary through parts
of 1861 and 1862, but it is less interesting than one would expect of the period when her city fell
to the Federals. She was a teenager, excessively sentimental even by
nineteenth-century standards, and unconnected with any reliable source of
information. The diary does reveal a good deal about immediate practical
problems such as food shortages, the difficulty of finding shoes, the
complications arising from the disappearance of small change, and the
discomfort of female dress. Hoops and corsets were an abomination, and bonnets
were no pleasure. Clara also reveals a society of semi-assimilated Jews among
whom social protocol was so closely observed that failure to present a pot of
freshly made preserves to a neighbor could rankle for months. Clara provides
much detail potentially useful to a historical novelist, but little of value
And When Did You Last See Your Father?
by Blake Morrison.
Picador, 224 pages, $21.00.
Mr. Morrison's memoir is in memory of and in tribute to his late father, a
prosperous doctor with a character full of contradictions. "The unsnobbish
protector and defender of 'ordinary decent folk' . . . was acutely aware of his
social status; the sentimental family man could be a bully and tyrant; the
open-hearted extrovert had a trove of secrets and hang-ups." The doctor died,
wretchedly, of cancer, a process that his son describes in macabre detail. The
book as a whole suggests that Mr. Morrison is only partly aware of the degree
of his resentment against the heavy paternal hand. It is a convincing account
of family tensions, but it is not agreeable reading.
Copyright © 1995 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.