THIS STRANGE WILDERNESS
By Nancy Plain. (University of Nebraska Press, 112 pages, $19.95.)
And now it is summer, and the days are longer and lighter, and birds are thinking about doing what birds do — building nests, laying eggs, cheeping outside your window at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m. A good time, perhaps, to read Nancy Plain’s short and lovely biography of John James Audubon, “This Strange Wilderness.”
Plain draws on Audubon’s own writings, and his fantastic tales of adventure (true? some? maybe?) as he crisscrossed America, shooting the birds he loved so he could paint them accurately, annoying his various employers, making enemies, missing his family.
Despite often painting from posed dead birds, Audubon breathed life and movement into his paintings, depicting his birds in action — a wild turkey hurrying her poults along a path; a swirling hawk threatening a clutch of bobwhites; mockingbirds defending their nests from a rattlesnake. For the mockingbird painting, Audubon posed a dead rattlesnake that was 6 feet long. He found he was unable to finish the painting in one sitting because “the stench became too strong.”
Plain has chosen quirky and interesting snippets of Audubon’s life, nicely illustrated with 44 color plates, for this readable and fascinating little book.
Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland
By Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus. (Viking Penguin, 336 pages, $28.95.)
Of all the cruel, evil and just plain weird moments in the Cleveland house of horrors, one stands out as particularly twisted. As she sat in chains, Amanda Berry — one of three young women kidnapped by Ariel Castro — watched “The Montel Williams Show” on Nov. 17, 2004. Amanda’s mother was on that show with psychic Sylvia Browne, hoping to keep attention on the case and perhaps learn the fate of her beloved daughter. “Can you tell me if they’ll ever find her?” Amanda’s mom asks. “Is she out there?” The well-known psychic responds: “She’s not alive, honey.”
Amanda Berry — shackled in a room with windows boarded up as a radio blared, verbally abused, sometimes starved and raped several times a day since she had been lured into Castro’s van on April 21, 2003 — now witnesses her mother’s intense pain. “I start crying and shouting at the TV. I’m not dead! I’m alive and I’m right here!” she writes in “Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland.” Berry, who kept a diary, wrote the book with another Cleveland kidnap survivor, Gina DeJesus, and Washington Post reporters Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan. “Finding Me,” the memoir by the third kindap victim, Michelle Knight, was released last year.
Unlike Knight’s book, the new book details police and community efforts to find the women — efforts that one time took cops just blocks from the house on Seymour Street. The memoir also tells of times when the three considered ways to escape, such as screaming loudly when visitors were downstairs or even pressing on the gas pedal of Castro’s van as it ran in his driveway. He had put the women there several days, locked up in stifling summer heat, and occasionally would leave the van running to give them some “relief.” They always chickened out, fearing his reprisals.
The turning point comes after Berry gives birth to Castro’s daughter on Christmas Day 2006 in a plastic child’s swimming pool upstairs. As the baby grows to a little girl, Castro begins to treat her like a daughter and tries to create a weird family setting. At that point, Berry recognizes the effect of the Stockholm syndrome — how those kidnapped begin to identify with their abductor just to survive.
But through it all, the three never lost hope. And as the judge recognized when Castro got his day in court on Aug. 1, 2013: “Although they suffered terribly, Miss Knight, Miss DeJesus and Miss Berry did not give up hope. They persevered. In fact, they prevailed.”