m_topn picture
Atlantic Monthly Sidebar

J U L Y   1 9 9 5

Brief Reviews
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.

Claude Monet

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 beyond that.

And When Did You Last See Your Father?

by Blake Morrison.

Picador, 224 pages, $21.00.

T 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.
m_nv_cv picture m_nv_un picture m_nv_am picture m_nv_pr picture m_nv_as picture m_nv_se picture