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Monday, March 11, 2013

Review and Author Interview: A White Wind Blew by James Markert

Title: A White Wind Blew
Author: James Markert
Format: ARC
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publish Date: February 26, 2013
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You want to get really lost in a story.
What's the Story?:

From "Dr. Wolfgang Pike would love nothing more than to finish the requiem he’s composing for his late wife, but the ending seems as hopeless as the patients dying a hundred yards away at the Waverly Hills tuberculosis sanatorium. If he can’t ease his own pain with music, Wolfgang tries to ease theirs—the harmonica soothes and the violin relaxes. But his boss thinks music is a waste, and in 1920s Louisville, the specter of racial tension looms over everything.

When a former concert pianist checks in, Wolfgang begins to believe that music can change the fortunes of those on the hill. Soon Wolfgang finds himself in the center of an orchestra that won’t give up, forced to make a choice that will alter his life forever.

Set against a fascinatingly real historical backdrop, A White Wind Blew raises compelling questions about faith and confession, music and medicine, and the resilience of love."

My Two Cents:

The subject matter of "A White Wind Blew" is not exactly happy. Not all that long ago, tuberculosis was a very serious disease that was really difficult to treat. Many people died and those that recovered were often ostracized as fear of the disease was so great. Wolfgang finds himself in the middle of this world. He has been treating patients at Waverly Hills. The story line is just fascinating. Not only do you have the turberculosis angle but the book is also the story of loss and rebirth for Wolfgang and many of the patients of Waverly Hills.

This book is definitely a character driven novel. Even the minor characters are really great. I wish that we got to know more about them. Wolfgang is an incredibly interesting character. He throws himself into treating the TB patients and he's also giving them spiritual guidance as he decides whether or not he wants to really continue his education to become a priest. As a lover and player of music, he begins to introduce instruments to the patients and even begins a choir that gives the patients some hope.

The historical detail in this book is fascinating. You get to learn a lot about what medical treatment was like back then. You also get to see a lot of the racial tension that was happening. Much of the book is about the complexity of racial ties. There are so many intertwining details in this book and Markert does a really amazing job of weaving everything together into a really moving book!

Author Interview:

1. What is the inspiration behind "A White Wind Blew?"

There were several things that inspired this book, but the setting was the main inspiration. I grew up within a few miles of Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Sanatorium, and I’ve been fascinated by it since high school. When I visited Waverly Hills a few years ago, I planned on writing something scary because of Waverly’s reputation as one of the most haunted, if not the MOST haunted, building in the world. But I was so taken in by the size and beauty of the building and surrounding woods, I knew right away that it deserved more. I thought: What if it is haunted? What if I am surrounded by ghosts? What is their story? I decided then to make the story historical. The thousands of people who died at Waverly deserved to have some kind of story told about the time period, even if it was fictionalized. Waverly has hundreds of thousands of fans because of its haunts, and I thought it would be neat to have it known more for the history. The epidemic in Louisville in the early 1900s was the worst in the country, and during the 1920’s there was no cure. So that’s when I focused on the music. Amadeus and Shawshank Redemption are two of my favorite movies, and as far as tone, both proved inspirational in my writing of A White Wind Blew. My sister is an amazing pianist, and listening to her when I was younger really helped as well. The hours of her playing may have been annoying back then, but it certainly seeped in and gave me an appreciation for it.

2. So much of the book has to do with music and its healing power. What drew you to this subject?

My sister-in-law is a music therapist, so her professional was always in my mind when I wrote the story. For whatever reason, the music was the first part of the story that came to me. On my visit to Waverly, standing on the open solarium overlooking the woods, the sound of a violin popped into my head. And then a piano. Right away I thought: They had no cure. Music could be their inspiration and their reason to have hope. Let the music be more contagious than the disease. And after watching Amadeus in high school, I’d always wanted to write something with classical music, something moving and powerful, and I hope I did that here. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t like music of some kind, and I don’t think I’m unique in that I like to listen to music whenever I need a boost—whether it be in mood, energy, driving, writing, working out, etc, I have to listen to music. I’m not a musician, but I love music, and I believe that music can do special things for the mind and body. A White Wind Blew is a story about love and music. Was it Shakespeare who once said: If music be the food of love; then play on.

3. What was the research process like for this book?

In the process of learning how to write novels over the years, I finished four other manuscripts. A White Wind Blew is my first to be published, and it’s also my first historical, so the research was something new to me. I spent two months researching Waverly Hills, tuberculosis, the 1920s, and music (mostly online) before starting to write the novel. I had much more to do, but I can be impatient when I have a story on my mind, so I just had to start writing. So I really focused on character and story and researched as I wrote it. Sometimes I would minimize the text, google something, and then go back. Other times I’d take a few days off to visit the library, or find a book to read on whatever subject I needed. I leaned on my uncle on all things musical. He was the music chair at Baylor University for years and a huge help with the book. The research never stopped though. I was doing little bits of research up until the last minute, trying to make everything as realistic as possible. But the most interesting research by far was talking to a tb survivor from the 1930s. What I learned from her was invaluable.

4. Do you have a favorite character in "A White Wind Blew?"

This isn’t easy, but at least I don’t have to pick which one of my children is my favorite. So, if pressured,although I’m a fan of Wolfgang, I’m gonna have to go with McVain. He’s that character we can hate and love at the same time. I wanted him to be cranky and rude, even mean at times, but somehow loved
anyway. He’s flawed, for sure, but who isn’t? I think I like him the most because I enjoyed writing him
the most.

5. If you could bring 3 fictional characters with you to a deserted island, who would you bring with you?

Okay, this is a fun question. First of all, and without much thought, I’m taking Andy Dufresne from Shawshank Redemption. If he can survive Shawshank, crawl through a mile of %$#@ and come out
clean, I want him on my Island. Next, I’m taking the dwarf, Tyrion Lannister, from George R.R. Martin’s
saga A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones). Love how he survives in a world where so many perish,
not because of his sword but because of his mind. Lastly, I’m taking Ashley Judd—I checked with my
wife and she okay’d it just for the sake of this interview. But Ashley isn’t a fictional character so scratch
that. For number three I’m gonna go with…drum roll…Catwoman from Batman, Anne Hathaway’s
character. Even in black tights and high heels she can do flips and stuff, and on a deserted island I think
she would come in handy snatching coconuts from trees. And unless I’m mistaken, cats have nine lives!

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