Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Gates of Eden has answers "Blowing in the Wind!" A gutsy uncompromising read.

In my opinion GATES OF EDEN by Charles Degelman (August Harvard Square Editions) can well be compared to Gone with The Wind, in describing huge cultural and political upheaval. In GATES it's the 1960's--Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, the historical ending of the war by the most massive anti war movement in American history and its aftermath. Degelman's novel describes the war in Vietnam and the war at home, through the passionate drives and idealistic committments of a cross-section of very real characters.

This ambitious novel begins with a nuclear blast seen by the boy Roger in Bronco, Texas. In Chicago, young Louis wants to go to the funeral of a black boy killed in the South. Middle class Connie, college bound, worries about her boyfriend, Eddie, a smart but poor kid bound for nowhere--or as she later learns, Vietnam. David and Madeline are New York sophisticates, privileged kids who want to make a mark, where it matters.

Despite their differences in background and ambitions, they will unite to build the antiwar movement that changed American history. And GATES, which won the 2012 Independent Publishers Book Award for historical fiction, also includes "The Masters of War," sections on the decisions of Presidents, Generals, Cabinet Members, that fuelled the mass marches of Americans of every age, race and class.

The young people at the core of this novel, become committed to change, because of what they experience. Connie and Louis are with the Freedom Riders, when they narrowly escape violent murder in the south. It makes them organize to end discrimination, the draft, the war in Vietnam.  David, a folk singer, becomes a leader in the SDS after he's gassed and beaten up among peaceful demonstrators. Later, he witnesses truth about the Vietnamese enemy, contrary to offical propaganda. Eddie goes to Vietnam and is unprepared for what he encounters.

Dylan's "The Answer is Blowing in the Wind," is an anthem for these kids trying to make sense of their world. They are radicalized by a leadership and media determined to hide reality, reported widely in the underground press, and a political system that won't address change.

These kids throw their lives into the struggle. Fighting injustice sends them to the Chicago Convention, where SDS leaders futilely meet with candidates, trying for a peace plank. One by one the avenues to peaceful change close. King is assassinated and with him nonviolence. When Malcolm X dies and rioting ensues in major cities around the country, the group experiences out of control police violence, deaths. And their affiliations make them fugitives.

The Answers seem to lead one way, armed insurrection, a path rejected by Eddie, who wants salvation in nature. The book's prologue is a bomb blast in a Manhattan Townhouse, and it's ending gets back there. You feel the waste of life, but understand how it happened. You have lived the dire quest of the survivors.

One of the rare pleasures of this book is that sex and drugs are not gratuitious. In the heated atmosphere of the war at home, these were ecstatic outlets. Self-indulgence was not the point, in people who were giving up their education, security, and futures, because they really were dedicated to changing society.  You see women, sick of being subservient, wanting to make their own choices, especially about their sexuality. They enjoy good sex and bad, endure illegal abortions and men who are faithless or crazy. The sex and drugs in this book are part of history, not a Hollywood fantasy.

The achievement of this book is to accurately and with great emotional logic, describe the events and personalities that enabled America to make major historical change. The Antiwar movement, which ended the draft, was supported by Vietnam Veterans against the War. They joined with groups, like SDS, to galvanize an America already sick of a war that cost a generation of dead children. This is a wonderful, gutsy, uncompromising read. Buy it!