Americans and Others

REACHING here and there among the gayly covered novels of the spring (their number, incidentally, is fewer than last year), we select four that have won early applause.
DURING the past quarter century American letters have been enriched by a number of notable autobiographies in which newcomers have told of the pains and gains they found in their adopted land. Almost inevitably the use of this theme in a novel, as coat rusted with a straight record of personal experience, has awaited the telling of the second generation—a generation near enough to feel the process of welding, yet. sufficiently remote to escape the searing flames of emotional conflict. To many thousands of these grandchildren of the older cultures, the Great War gave an opportunity to see and understand the ways and places that had remained so moving a memory to their parents; and the habit of travel has fostered further this sensitiveness to nations other than our own. I believe that the next few years may bring an exerting group of novels to show the sympathies and conflicts of people who carry within them fused currents of blood and tradition.
Dari, Heritage (Atlantic Monthly Press and Little, Brown, $2.50), a first novel by Shirland Quin, is a distinguished offspring of such an intermarriage of cultures. The author was born in Massachusetts of Welsh and English parentage, educated in Wales and France, and lives at present on a sugar plantation near Honolulu. Her story is of a young Welshman, Mervyn Morgan, who comes to America, after a brothers’ quarrel, determined to make and save the money which will enable him to return to his own passionately beloved land and spend his life on a farm like that where he was born. He allowed himself four years of exile; they stretched to twenty. He tried in vain to resist an American marriage, but yielded finally to one which ended unhappily in divorce. At last, with more money than he had dreamed of at the start, with no family ties but unhappy memories to hold him in the new land, he went back to Wales to fulfill his dream.
That step spelled disillusion. The old friends had remained the same, but he had changed; to them — and unacknowledgedly to himself — he had become an ‘American.’ When he tried to graft on to Welsh ways the new things he had learned in America —that milk should be bottled, that a drinking cup at the village fountain was a danger — they poured into their resentment the envy and distrust that his success had bred. Aching in spirit, but finally reconciled to America and a second American love that he had resisted, he went back to call the adopted land home. Dari: Heritage is a vivid and harmonious book, unusual in the effectiv eness that it creates in both setting and character and their interaction. Here is the America of glittering towers, broad plains, and the exotic Western coast; there the Wales of misty mountains, white brooks, and sturdy, well-worn farmhouses. It could have been written only by someone who loved them all, and understood, moreover, the life that created them and was nourished, in turn, by their essence.
In Three Steeples, by LeRoy MacLeod (Covici, Friede, $2.50), comes another unusually able first novel. Here also the author is of alien parentage, — Scotch, — but his story is bound by a Middle-Western American small town. Mr. MacLeod’s earlier writing has been chiefly verse, and his fine simple prose glows with lovely images — a brown rooster ‘thudding’ along the shade of the yard fence after one of his harem, a hurrying buggy which carried ‘yellow sun-fire in the small back window,’ a farm hand pausing before the lighted parlor window ‘like a black enormous moth.’ The story is of the struggling aspirations, rivalries, and hatreds symbolized by the three church steeples piercing the trees of the village green, and of the boy whose young religious fervor was set in an almost ascetic mould by the disappointment of his first love affair. The book is stronger in its initial framing of character and forces than in the concluding fulfillment in tragedy; but after all allowance for that usual shortcoming in a first novel, it still stands as a substantial and satisfying narrative.
Readers of Florence Converse’s Long Will need no convincing that she can carry scholarship with grace and gayety. Sphinx (Dutton, $2.50) is overflowing with the most delectable sort of erudition centred about a small golden image, a priceless museum treasure, and the replica that a young sculptor made for his poetbride. But the erudition only speeds a prancing story and throws into high lights a droll and engaging group of characters. In some lists Sphinx has been classed as a mystery story; so it is, but a mystery for those who enjoy fun rather than for the scientific detective fans — a mystery most pleasantly preposterous.
In The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck (John Day, $2.50), we leave America. The story is of a farmer in China, where Mrs. Buck’s life has been spent, but the pattern is one not unfamiliar to Westerners. Wang Lung, incredibly poor, slaved for his land with the aid of his unbeautiful and faithful wife. By labor and luck he gradually amassed riches. With riches came Lotus, the second wife, as lovely and useless as the mother of his sons had been plain and hard-working. For the sons themselves the land had no meaning, except as it provided wealth or social distinction; the family moved to town, to the great house which Wang Lung once had trembled to approach, but when his last days came the old mail returned to his land to die. Of Mrs. Buck’s earlier book, East Wind: West Wind, an expert on the Orient wrote that it told more of contemporary China than a year of newspaper headlines or a shelf of volumes. Of this second, written in the same beautifully lucid and unemphatie fashion, I (not knowing China) would venture the same remark, adding that it also has meaning and illumination for those whose interests do not consciously span the Pacific.