This past Tuesday, the Whitney Book Bistro discussed Miracle at St. Anna by James McBride. The discussion brought forth stories from our members—stories about segregation and race, about war, politics, and remembrance. The immediate reaction from the group was that the story was just too sad. And many found it confusing, difficult to keep the characters straight and filled with an odd depiction of miracles/spiritualism. Yet the discussion was full and varied; and we only referred to one question from the discussion prompts.
Everyone seemed to find Miracle at St. Anna educational and worthwhile, but not all of us would have chosen to read it. I chose the book because, although I don’t generally read war novels, or violent crime novels, I had been impressed by McBride’s bestselling memoir, The Color of Water. I was equally impressed by his first novel, Miracle at St. Anna. I found it beautiful and uplifting—from the simplicity of Train, who thinks rubbing a statue head can make him invisible, to the decency of a German soldier amidst inhuman cruelty, through the continuing miracle of life and love through the ages. Of course, in between is some ugly fighting, deception, and politics.
Our views of the things we read are so often tempered by our moods and experiences. We may love a book on a first read and despise it on a second! One of the great things about discussing and sharing books is that it can bring new understanding to the books and in many ways, to the world around us.
At the meeting, one member remarked that perhaps we should discuss the books before we read them. Discussion makes a difference.