Believing, as a conservative should, that the old things are the best things I suggest two novels and one CD for the season.
This is the 20th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and a little but powerful book started the process, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, winner of the Nobel Prize. The novella first exposed the ugly brutal reality of the vast network of Soviet concentration camps. We share Ivan Denisovich Shukhov’s cold, hunger, fear, and exhaustion as well as the brief comforts of a cigarette or a crust of bread that he snatches when the guards aren’t looking. We marvel at Shukhov’s shrewd resourcefulness, his stubborn dignity (he will not beg for a cigarette butt), and his will to survive at temperatures of 40 degrees below zero in a Siberian camp.
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev personally approved its publication as part of his anti-Stalin campaign, but Soviet authorities then reversed that decision. But it was too late: The truth had been told about the millions who lived and worked and died in the Gulag Archipelago, setting in motion the forces that ultimately led to the collapse of communism and the fall of the Evil Empire.
Only a gifted writer could capture the unbounded beauty of the American Southwest, where American, Mexican, and Indian cultures intersect and often collide. In Death Comes for the Archbishop, prize-winning novelist Willa Cather tells the story of a young French Catholic priest Jean Latour, who comes to the untamed New Mexico territory in the mid-1800s as its first apostolic vicar. For 40 years, Bishop Latour travels thousands of miles on horseback and mule (sic!), endures desert heat and mountain blizzard, disciplines rebellious Spanish priests, and befriends legendary figures like the famed guide Kit Carson. When he dies Mexicans and Americans alike kneel in prayer and honor the old bishop for his enduring faith in the face of almost perpetual adversity.
Cather, best known for her stories of the Nebraska prairies, makes the southwestern desert and sky characters in her book. Death Comes for the Archbishop is an elegy to a mythic land and a requiem for a devout missionary who epitomizes the classic virtues of courage, justice, and wisdom.
Who was the female singer on “six of the best jazz vocal records ever made”? No, not Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday but Rosemary Clooney (yes, the same vocalist who gave us such unforgettable songs as “Come on-a My House”). If that strikes you as preposterous, I urge you to order via Amazon Rosemary Clooney: The Songbook Collection (Concord Jazz) and prepare to be delighted, excited, charmed for hours.
Between 1980 and 1989, Rosie Clooney recorded the music and lyrics of Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, and Rodgers, Hart and Hammerstein, surrounded by a brilliant group of young jazz musicians led by Scott Hamilton on tenor sax and Warren Hache on cornet. The Great American Songbook has never sounded better.
As Peter Straub writes in the liner notes, “Rosemary Clooney sings as though her life depended on it, which of course it does.” This is a masterful collection rendered by a master.
— Lee Edwards is a distinguished fellow in conservative thought at the Heritage Foundation.
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