A WRITER'S WIT
Literature is the art of discovering something extraordinary about ordinary people, and saying with ordinary words something extraordinary.
--Boris Pasternak, Author of Dr. Zhivago
Born February 10, 1890
Carol Morgan's Romance with History
This novel is largely a Romance, in the tradition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter--in which two people in love forge a life against the strictures of society. In this vein Morgan operates from an emotional stance to portray the life of her protagonist, Edwina Kleberg. Edwina evinces certain ideals, like the equality of all people, the revelation of truth in her writings as journalist, and the historical construct that if we do not learn from our mistakes we are doomed. But the most important thing Morgan does is to create a narrative that is difficult to put down once one begins to read it.
Briefly, Edwina’s father, Joseph Kleberg, a German immigrant, is orphaned in nineteenth-century Galveston, Texas, when a hurricane hits the Gulf coast. He makes it to adulthood and marries, and he and his wife produce two children: the protagonist Edwina and her brother, Paul. A good bit of the novel is about Edwina’s education and her work as a journalist in India during the World War II era. Edwina Kleberg is quite a daring writer, plunging into dangerous situations without thinking of her own safety, even posing as a nurse in order to get an important scoop—proclaiming a feminist stance before such a thing is widely popular. But journalism is only one career Edwina pursues, as she later opens and operates a school for many years—largely to be close to the man she loves.
A couple of important motifs arise throughout the novel, one in particular resonating from the title. At one point Edwina views a woman’s tapestries, and the woman tells her they are a metaphor, that when turned over the back is a jumble of threads, “like the times when we make mistakes. But those mistakes are necessary for the finished product” (237). The threads of Edwina’s life are indeed a jumble: she witnesses murder, mutilation, and violent political retribution; she bears a child out of wedlock in an era and a culture that are not very accepting; she descends into alcoholism when her longtime lover, Raj, a married man, is assassinated. Only many years later does she tell her son who his father is (although he has figured it out himself). Her life, her “jumble of threads,” ends in a rather spectacular way.
Morgan develops the narrative on through Edwina’s eighties. Ending with a tragic event, as the novel has begun, the author concludes by having Edwina go up in smoke along with the twin towers in New York—on her way to speak with her editor about publishing the autobiographical novel that it has taken her a lifetime to write. Yet Edwina’s death is one suitable for a person who has spent her life searching out and publishing the truth. The last sentences of the novel brings into use the other important motif, as two doves, a black one and a white one, descend on the ashes of 9-1-1 and one pecks the jewel from Edwina’s mangled ring, thus in some way continuing her life.
In spite of a few problems with presentation on the page, Of Tapestry, Time and Tears is a narrative that is as unforgettable as Gone with the Wind or The Thorn Birds! If you enjoy this combination of history, Romance, and heroism, you should enjoy this novel. Give it a whirl!
NEXT TIME: Behind the Book—MLPR, "Killing Lorenzo"