The Inventor's Progress
I WOULD like to add Thomas McMahon to the list of authors interested in science and nature that would include such wonderful people as Stephen Jay Gould, Peter Matthiessen and Farley Mowatt. A professor of applied mechanics and biology at Harvard, McMahon in the last 20 years has published three novels: Principles of American Nuclear Chemistry: A Novel (1970); McKay's Bees (1979); and Loving Little Egypt (1987). In each he presents us with a story firmly rooted in the history of America and the history of invention. His main characters are fueled by key elements of the scientific mind -- curiosity, innovation and structure. Mix this with the scientist's love of mankind and desire to improve humanity's lot, and the result is brilliant storytelling.
In McKay's Bees, Gordon McKay's grand plan is part of his quest for a better life. He wants to build a new city on the prairie land of the American Midwest and to base the town's economy on the productivity of bees. But McKay and his group settle in the Kansas-Missouri border region, and the year is 1855. Even in the midst of ruffian turmoil, however, McKay's vision of compassion and scientific achievement remains unclouded.
Two of McMahon's novels have been nicely done in reprint -- McKay's Bees by Harper's Perennial Library and Loving Little Egypt by Penguin.
Herndon India in Transition
WHEN BROWSING through a book store recently, I came upon Sunlight on a Broken Column by Attia Hosain. Set in India during the 1930s, the book paints a vivid picture of the upheavals of that time.
India's struggle is seen through the eyes of Laila, an orphan, who at the beginning of the story is living in strict observance of "purdah" (i.e., behind the veil.) When she is allowed to live with her "liberal" and political aunt and uncle. Laila finds the world no longer safe, secure and predictable. Inevitably, she must choose whether to obey the demands of her upbringing or to follow her heart.
In Laila, Attia Hosain has created a character who is identifiably human and consequently beset with the requisite human frailties. The reader shares Laila's agony in making her decision and ultimately her joy. By making Laila more accessible, the ruptures in Indian society and its effects on its people can be more easily understood. The pain of a society splintering apart becomes more immediate; the sides less clear between Muslims and Hindus when seen through the eyes of one who views both as friend and family.
Published in 1961, Sunlight is a good read for anyone interested in developing a better understanding of the roots of modern India and Pakistan. KIM TILLEY Washington
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