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From the eighteenth-century has emerged new friends, John and Abigail Adams, originally from a working farm at Braintree, Massachusetts. As husband and wife, their humanness enlivened my imagination: I was with them during their long relationship with its chilling hardships and lengthy separations.

Prior to this memorable experience, found in the pages of John Adams (2001), by the master writer, David McCullough, I only knew John and Abigail from history’s dust-covered pages about our country’s beginnings.

In McCullough’s perception, too few knew of Abigail’s emotional and spiritual and political support of John, of his intellectual brilliance and astute reading of character, his ease speaking in the political arena, his passion for truth, his sense of humor, his diplomatic work in Paris and the Hague that led to American independence—all these had been insufficiently addressed by Adams’s authors. So McCullough set to work. Years would pass.

Ruminating over John’s and Abigail’s letters, diaries, and journals, visiting all the places they had lived in America and Europe, and steeping his imagination with sensory impressions, McCullough allowed the story to take its present form in his unconscious, while ever critiquing what he wrote and checking his facts.

Readers of John Adams by David McCullough can’t help being touched by the immediacy of this piece of eighteenth-century history. As one of the Founding Fathers, McCullough honors Adams’s passion for American Independence, the form of government of the new country, and his role as one of the Founding Fathers.

Some exquisiteness ennobles. Some exquisiteness draws blood. Such was my experience reading The Words I Never Wrote, (2020), the historical novel written by Jane Thyme.

The enigmatic title speaks to the estrangement of two sisters, inseparable and gifted artists as they grew up on their British estate at Birnham Park. Vaguely aware of Germany’s 1936 rearmament in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles, one sister follows her industrialist husband to Berlin, while the other relocates to Paris to advance her career in journalism. Their exchange of letters abruptly stops the following year.

To unravel this estrangement becomes the self-appointed task of a photographer, in present time, who happens upon the unfinished manuscript of a novel wedged in the case of an antique Underwood typewriter; such comprises the first half of The Words I Never Wrote.

Upon its yellowing pages unfold juxtapositions that craze spirit: the sisters’ divergent lifestyles with consequent distancing, the underbelly of Nazi Germany’s heinousness and opulence, prickly fears of arrests and the underground, burgeoning law codes and the impossibility of observing them, Hitler and his henchmen attending the Berlin Philharmonic, slave labor cultivating choice foods for Nazi tables, the torture and random abuse of lawbreakers requiring medical care—And so much more. So violently did the sensuousness of the images suck me within the story line that I had to put the book down.

Yet, the preciseness of these images, especially, the formal gardens having gone to seed, the estates along the Wanasee River, the outdoors in all seasons, the allied bombings of Berlin and consequent mayhem, lovemaking and separations, contributed an almost lyrical dimension to this novel. As a writer, I often stopped over an exceptionally well-worded phrase and relished its afterglow. 

A workout, yes, but The Words I Never Wrote left its mark—exquisite is its end.

Recently, a single red balloon found its way into my backyard, its bottom booted by trickster winds under brooding skies; its redness plummeted me within the experience of Pascal, the kindergartner in the Academy-Award winning short, The Red Balloon (1956) by Albert Lamorisse. Filmed in the run-down Ménilmontant neighborhood of Paris, still recovering from the war’s devastation, the mood is somber, its grayness pervasive. Spare is the dialogue amidst the noise of street life.

On the way to school Pascal happens upon a red helium balloon snared within the crook of a streetlamp, frees, then, tames it: its brightness emboldens his fragile sensitivity, easily bruised by the crimped world of adults and hooligans around him; it becomes his confidante. A playful lei-motif traces their developing relationship, with its pranks, foolishness, joys, and grief.

But The Red Balloon is not just an ordinary movie. Its opening scene engages our imagination and plunges us into the world of symbols; some of the following are notable: grey clothing: mourning; the Cosmic Suffering Christ: red balloon; wetness: cleansing; the Divine Child: innocence; stone stairs: heights and depths; and redemption: the cluster balloon ride—thereby imprinting this story upon viewers for decades.

Even today, eyes quicken with smiles whenever the story of Pascal and his red balloon is shared.

Do treat yourself. Both the book and the short are still available on Amazon—even a freebie on YouTube.

 

Available on Amazon

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