Tuesday, February 14, 2012

New Books Worth Reading

Journalistic Novel Provides Blueprint to Understand Occupy Movement

Review by Corey Ellen (Carmichael, Calif.)

If you have trouble understanding the issues surrounding natural gas fracking in Pennsylvania or reasons for the Occupy movement, a good start might be Walter Brasch’s critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow.

Skillfully mixing humor with tragedy, Brasch tells the story of Apryl Greene, a folksinger and photographer for labor unions and social causes. She’s a ’60s “flower child” who is trying to build a school for peace and the arts on 40 acres of land she owns along the Susquehanna River in rural Pennsylvania.

On the eve of the Persian Gulf War, with Iraq having invaded Kuwait and now holding 10 percent of the oil in the world, government and corporate business are playing to the fears of Americans by simultaneously pushing for war and for “clean” nuclear energy with well-paying jobs in a depressed economy. What they haven’t said is that real estate deception, government bungling, and manufacturing processes defects threaten the people’s health, safety, and environment. Brasch’s underlying theme is that social problems haven’t been solved, they just exist in different times under different conditions.

Into Apryl’s life comes David Ascher, cynical, liberal, and burdened with the responsibilities of being executive editor of a major magazine. On tour to promote his book about revolutionary journalists, he’s looking for another story; she’s after something more important. Together, they are driven to find out who are trying to seize her land; more important, why.

Literary critic Ron Primeau calls Before the First Snow “a brilliant book that touches the nerve of where political decisions intersect with the pulse of what it is to be human. The characters and events are vivid and the momentum is never lost. The layers of the plot and characterization work because the writing style is so fresh and clear.” Primeau praises Brasch’s deft handling of plot development. The odd-numbered chapters focus upon the present, leading to the invasion; the even-numbered chapters, each tying into the next one, are historical vignettes that begin in 1964 and also end with the beginning of Desert Storm. Apryl appears in all of the chapters, sometimes as a major character, sometimes for only a scene. But through her life, says Brasch, “We can feel the Movement as more than a collection of facts.”

The media, civil rights and civil liberties, the labor movement, the environment, and social activism thread their way through all chapters. Among the chapters are penetrating looks at the unionization of farm workers, the 1967 “Summer of Love,” the Chicago riots of 1968, a chapter that explores the life of a wounded veteran of the Vietnam War, and an interesting chapter that merges the lives of those who were at Woodstock with the soldiers at Kent State.

Michael Blake, the Oscar®-winning writer of “Dances With Wolves,” says Brasch is “an exceptional writer.” Dan Rather calls this fast-paced mystery, “First-rate fiction that explores and contemplates modern American history, culture, politics and journalism.” Rather points out, “What Brasch and his characters have to say about the intermingling of corporate and government power alone makes this book worth reading.” Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States, says Before the First Snow is, “A powerful look at humanity and the reverence of life as seen through the lives of a social activist who never lost hope, and the reporter who covered her story.” The industry magazine, Independent Publisher, says Brasch “meticulously builds a scenario of greed, corruption, and intrigue, set against the backdrop of social protest. In so doing, he weaves a compelling story of history and contemporary American values.”

Brasch, a journalist/activist with roots in the ’60s, is an award-winning syndicated columnist and multimedia writer-producer. He also does a weekly commentary for several radio stations. Previously, he was a newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, and tenured full professor of mass communications.

This is Brasch’s 17th book. Most of his books blend history and contemporary social issues to make powerful insights into the collective consciousness of the American people. The Midwest Book Review noted that “Brasch is a master at weeding through the political lies, deceit, corruption, rhetoric, and hyperbole to help us find the truth. He is a man we need very much in today’s complex society.”

Before the First Snow is available from amazon.com, most bookstores.

Also out, "Autoworkers Under the Gun" by poet and labor activist Gregg Shotwell who was also the winner of our Working Peoples Poetry Competition last year. If you want to know about the inner workings of the UAW and more importantly, about rank and file activism in resistance to class collaboration at the top, this book is an invaluable resource.

Autoworkers Under the Gun is published by and available from Haymarket Books