Jackson Taylor’s ‘The Blue Orchard’ Review

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This is the story of Verna Krone, a woman who grew up with nothing and became a nurse, a wife, a mother, and eventually, a member of a very public and shocking scandal. Politics, gender, race, and class all intersect in this deeply moving portrayal of life.

 

Published: January 12th, 2010

Publisher: Touchstone

Pages: 384 (Paperback)

Five Stars (2)

“He who tells even the smallest part of a secret loses his hold on the rest.”

 

On the eve of the Great Depression, Verna Krone, the child of Irish immigrants, must leave the eighth grade and begin working as a maid to help support her family. Her employer takes inappropriate liberties, and as Verna matures, it seems as if each man she meets is worse than the last. Through sheer force of will and a few chance encounters, she manages to teach herself to read and becomes a nurse. But Verna’s new life falls to pieces when she is arrested for assisting a black doctor with “illegal surgeries.” As the media firestorm rages, Verna reflects on her life while awaiting trial.

Based on the life of the author’s own grandmother and written after almost three hundred interviews with those involved in the real-life scandal, “The Blue Orchard “is as elegant and moving as it is exact and convincing. It is a dazzling portrayal of the changes America underwent in the first fifty years of the twentieth century. Readers will be swept into a time period that in many ways mirrors our own. Verna Krone’s story is ultimately a story of the indomitable nature of the human spirit–and a reminder that determination and self-education can defy the deforming pressures that keep women and other disenfranchised groups down.

 

“Till the day I die, I will regret that day, and how the safety of my own race seduces me to disengage from his, to suddenly follow previously ignored codes.”

 

First, I want to thank a dear family friend for sending this book to me! It was a wonderful surprise and after hearing it was one of her favorites I knew I had to read it. So thank you, Yvonne!

I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, I read even less ‘based on a true story’ fiction, so this was a new one for me and I found myself really enjoying it. I’m from central Pennsylvania and have frequented almost every town or city this book mentioned, so it was a really realistic book for me and I enjoyed seeing the character move through my hometown. This is based on a true story, so the author’s grandmother is the main character in this book, Verna Krone, and did help him write and research some of the book before she died. That made this all the more interesting and I did find myself googling some of the information to get a deeper background on some topics or just because I was interested.

This book is hard to explain to others because on the outside its about a poor woman who overcomes a lot and becomes this prominent and successful nurse only to fall from grace later in life due to social and political complications. It’s so much more than that, though, and touches on some really important topics like women’s rights/health, race relations, and changing political climates. It was astounding to me that all of the important and relevant topics in this book (which is based in the era of the Great Depression) are still problems and topics we debate today. Nothing has changed socially; segregation is gone but racism and prejudice remain, abortion is legal but the stigma and demonization of women still remains, and women are seen as more than wives and mothers but still less than men. It’s frustrating, but the portrayal of these topics in this book was very intricate, realistic, and personal. It wasn’t simply exploring these topics because they were important to the times, this book was taking a deeper look at how these things intersected in one person’s life, spreading out to effect all those around her.

The writing in this book is poetic and deep but doesn’t rely heavily on dialogue or long, overly descriptive sentences to get the point across. It’s right to the point, and while the writing leaves little to the imagination, it doesn’t mean this book is any less important or moving. In fact, I liked that it was a more straight forward style of writing that didn’t waste time with lengthy and unneeded information. It was certainly something different than what I usually read, and it was refreshing and interesting.

While this book was heartbreaking at (most) times, the plot was interesting and slow-burning, while maintaining the richness of this true-life sequence of events. There were times I really didn’t know what was going to happen to poor Verna, times where I felt like there was nothing that could possibly go right for her. She was such a realistic character and had so many flaws; her inability to be a present mother/wife/sister/daughter, her struggle to fully love anyone in her life, and her need to be needed. It was so interesting to see her evolve throughout her years and come to terms with some of these flaws and see how she addresses them.

Overall this book was a stunning and realistic look at life in central Pennsylvania during the Great Depression era and the social reconstruction of the time. Everything about this book was deeply moving and important for both then and now, and I feel there are many lessons to be learned in the pages of this book. If you’re looking for a good piece of fiction that deals with history and social issues then this gem is for you!

 

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