It is Friday Eve! You are almost to the weekend, hang in there! I have a different book from
the norm that I usually review for you all here on Rainy Day Ramblings. Even though it is a bit outside my reading comfort zone, I am so happy I read this one. It is a fantastic historical fiction book that really left an impression on me. This book was about surviving tuberculosis and soothing the soul with music. This was an amazing read and I highly recommend you check it out. I have author James Markert here to answer a few questions today. Be sure to enter the giveaway as well. Here is a bit more about James:
James Markert grew up Louisville, KY, in the shadows of Waverly Hills, and was drawn in at an early age by Waverly’s popularity as one of the most haunted places on earth. After visiting the building for the first time, he was quickly moved by the history of the massive Gothic structure. It was there that the story of Father Wolfgang Pike began to form. James has a history degree from the University of Louisville, and is a USPTA tennis professional. His comedy screenplay, 2nd Serve, was produced by Sundance award-winner Gill Holland and premiered in 2012. Find James on his website, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.
I, of course, after reading this book realized my knowledge of tuberculosis in general is sorely lacking so I had a few questions for Mr Markert. Here is our interview:
Tuberculosis has been a problem for centuries, traced as far back as ancient Egypt, but really became widespread with the crowding of the European cities, reaching epidemic proportions during the industrial revolution. An estimated one billion people died from TB between 1700-1900. It was so easily spread from person to person because it was airborne, and once contracted, it spread quickly through the body. It is possible to have dormant TB, and with a healthy immune system, sometimes it never developed into the full-blown disease. TB had several names over the years, and these names alone tell how devastating the disease was to the body: Consumption, The White Death, The Wasting Disease…
2. It was obvious you did a great deal of research for your book,what was the most fascinating thing you discovered while researching A White Wind Blew?
Going into it I thought that tuberculosis only attacked the lungs, but soon learned that TB could attack any part of the body, like the bones, joints, and skin to name a few. People who had TB of the skin spent a lot of time on the rooftop to get as much sun exposure as possible and they were referred to as the heliotherapy patients. When the sun wasn’t out they often rested under lamps. The patients spent much of their time outside on the solarium porches, even in the middle of winter, which I found fascinating, and I read that “electric blankets” were invented because of places like Waverly.
Really, the first cure began in the early 1940s with the development of the antibiotic streptomycin, which made effective treatment a possibility for the first time. But that didn’t come along until after my story. So the patients in A White Wind Blew had to rely on experimental treatments because they had no cure. They removed ribs and collapsed lungs. A nutritious diet was very important. Rest and fresh air were their best answers for the time and the doctors and nurses wheeled the patients out on the solarium “sleeping” porches, where the abundant wind could reach them at all times, even in the heart of winter. TB was known as the “white death”, so in the novel I refer to the Waverly wind as the White Wind, and the citizens who lived outside the hillside lived in fear every time the white wind blew.
4. What were the mortality statistics for Tuberculosis during the time period of your book? What were the chances of recovery once a person contracted Tuberculosis?
Upwards of 200 people out of every 100,000 died of tuberculosis during that time, with Louisville having the highest number of deaths in the country. In Louisville it was believed that the swamplands around the river were like breeding grounds. It is believed that 60,000 people died at Waverly Hills during the epidemic, but it’s possible that the number has ballooned since Waverly has become such a popular place for the supernatural. People did survive the sanatoriums, but there’s a reason why those buildings were called homes for the dying. Being sent to one was widely considered to be a death sentence, where the patient “wasted away”.
5. Music plays a key role in the book in helping the patients suffering from
Tuberculosis. Why did you decide to incorporate musical therapy in your book? Was there a real life inspiration for Dr. Pike, who utilized music to help heal patients?
My sister-in-law is a music therapist, so learning about her profession was very instrumental (pardon the pun) in the creation of the story. My sister is a pianist, and listening to her play growing up—although at the time her practicing may have annoyed her brothers—the beauty of it really seeped in. Amadeus was one of my favorite movies in high school, and I’ve always wanted to write something moving and historical with classical music as the main theme. I named my main character after Mozart. But I knew that TB had no cure at that time, so I thought of ways that Wolfgang Pike could bring change to the sanatorium. When I visited Waverly, I stood on the 4th floor solarium overlooking the woods and I imagined the sound of a violin playing, and then a piano, and the idea came to me. If they had no cure, Wolfgang would bring comfort and lift spirits with music, believing that when the mind was more at peace, the body then had a fighting chance.
6. I was very interested to read the Epilogue at the end of the book regarding the real Waverly Sanatorium. Can you share with teh readers your impressions when you visited the real Waverly?
I grew up a few miles from Waverly Hills and was always fascinated because of its reputation as one of the most haunted buildings on earth. The ghost hunter shows LOVE Waverly. When I visited I fully intended to come out of there wanting to write something really scary. But that wasn’t the case. I was overwhelmed with the history of the massive, Gothic building. The architecture was beautiful, the size made me feel like I was in a castle. I thought to myself, “What if I am surrounded by ghosts? What is their story?” I knew then that I needed to write something historical to honor the 60,000 people who died there. I didn’t see any ghosts when I was there but we took about thirty pictures, and in nearly every picture there were those orbs that people equate to ghosts. And inside the body chute (later referred to as the Death Tunnel, where they would sneak the dead bodies off the hillside so as not to hurt morale) I was completely surrounded by the orbs. And the pictures we took of Room 502 didn’t come out, which was strange, because 502 is thought to be one of the most haunted parts of the building.
It was always a real possibility, which only makes the nurses and doctors more heroic for doing what they did for the sake of saving lives. For whatever reason some people were more immune than others, but many did get the disease and die from it. I’ve read that the men and women who spent that much time around the patients had a fifty percent chance of getting the disease.
8. How Deadly is Tuberculosis still today?
Tuberculosis is still very deadly today, unfortunately. We no longer have to worry about it because we are able to treat it quickly with antibiotics, but in third world countries over 2 million people still die of tuberculosis every year, and the rate is especially high with people with AIDS, namely in Africa.
9. It was apparent in the book that you have a great love of music, do you play any instruments? What are your favorite genres of music?
I don’t play any instruments. I wish I could but I don’t. But I love listening to music, especially live music. I mostly listen to rock, soft rock, and some pop, but also really like classical music as well. I’ll even listen to some rap and country if needed. My favorite bands are U2, Pearl Jam, Cold Play, REM, The Killers, Radio Head, and the list goes on. If I could pick any career and had no chance of failure, I’d be the lead singer in a rock band. Problem is…I can’t sing either.
10. What is next for you?
I’m working on another film that could be pretty big. It takes place in the late 1800s. Can’t say any more than that. But I’m deep into my next novel, The Strange Case of Isaac Crawley, which also takes place in the last 1800’s. It involves the theatre scene, a love story, the theatrical version of Jekyll and Hyde, and an interesting man named Isaac Crawley, who may or may not be mentally ill, and he decides to start a theatre program inside a lunatic asylum. Think The Alienist meets A White Wind Blew! I’m also working on the first book of a series about ghosts and history and art, called The Book of Jonah. It’s about a ghost named Jonah, who has been dead for 70 years, and he’s been traveling the world penning the stories of other ghosts from various periods in history, and he’s finally come up with the courage to write his own story—or maybe he’s writing his story because of Julia. But we’ll learn more about her in The Book of Julia, who lived in ancient Pompeii…when Vesuvius erupted…and I’ve gotta go now because I’ve said too much…
A big thanks to James for taking the time to answer my questions today. I am pleased to be able to offer you an opportunity to win a copy of his fabulous book: A White Wind Blew. Thanks to the wonderful folks over at Sourcebooks. Please fill out the rafflecopter to enter. This giveaway is open to U.S./Canada residents only. Good Luck!a Rafflecopter giveaway
Here is my review:
A White Wind Blew by James Markert
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.
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published February 26th 2013 by Sourcebooks (first published October 18th 2010)
Four and a half stars: A compelling read about life and death in a sanatorium.
For Dr. Wolfgang Pike, it is a steady stream of death and dying as he makes his daily rounds at the Waverly Hills Sanatorium. He is one of the resident doctors at the facility, and he spends his days administering to those afflicted by tuberculosis. The disease is taking a heavy toll on the population, and people are getting sick and dying in record numbers. Dr. Pike in an attempt to help ease the suffering takes musical requests from the patients. No matter how busy he is, Dr. Pike sees each patient and honors their request. Dr. Pike firmly believes that music will help soothe the soul and give the sick hope. Unfortunately, not everyone shares his beliefs and he is met with fierce opposition from the chief doctor. Can Dr. Pike's music truly help those suffering from tuberculosis?
What I Liked:
- I must admit that I thankfully I was born in the years after a cure for tuberculosis was discovered and so my knowledge of this dreaded disease is scant. I know that many people throughout history died from this affliction and that it had many names such as consumption, wasting and the white plague. This book was an eye opening experience for me as I gained a greater understanding of just how devastating this disease was and that we are not that far removed from its deathly clutches. I was absolutely stunned to learn the effects of this disease and how it affected patients. This was a very informative read to say the least.
- I appreciated how this book took on so many troublesome issues pertinent to this era. The book opens in 1929 but it spans back and forth through time to cover the years during World War I and on up to 1929. This book brings forth the ugliness of the war, racism, segregation, religious intolerance, and of course the main focus of tuberculosis. I liked that this book touched on so many of these troubling topics, and even though we have our problems in today's society, they don't begin to compare to the troubles of yesteryear. I am incredibly grateful that there is a cure for tuberculosis.
- I loved that this book tells the story of a doctor who believes firmly in music being able to heal the soul. Dr. Pike, despite the odds, brings music to the patients of Waverly and I throughly enjoyed how he brought together a band of sick patients to form a musical group. In the end, he does prove how beneficial music is to the sick patients.
- I completely enjoyed the rich characters in this book. This is definitely one of those books where the secondary characters are as interesting as the main protagonists. From the seven fingered pianist, McVain, to the giant, kind Big Fifteen, and the pregnant Mary Sue and the crazed Herman. Each character had their own story and I loved uncovering their histories. McVain is certainly a character I won't forget anytime soon.
- This is definitely one of those books that I can say will stick with me for a long time to come. It is a poignant tale of survival and death, of cures and redemption and last wishes and dying. This book made me laugh and cry, fiercely angry and sad. It touched me and changed me, and I will not forget the time I spent with all the souls at Waverly. I know that at first glance, you may not be compelled to read this one, but I can whole-heartedly say that I am glad I took a chance and gave this a try. Sure it broke my heart just a little, but I am happy that I was able to go on an incredible journey. Do yourself a favor and take a chance, and try this one.
- Finally, I liked that Mr. Markert included an Epilogue at the end of the book that discussed the inspiration behind the story and the real Waverly. I was fascinated by the information at the end and I am glad that he included it. I would very much like to see those pictures of room 502.
And The Not So Much:
- The biggest complaint I had was that the book does not provide a detailed explanation of tuberculosis, such as what causes it, how it spreads and ultimately how it was cured. I had a vague notion of the disease before going into this one, but once I was immersed in the story, I realized just how scant my knowledge of TB was. I ended up googling it and doing a bit of research after I completed the book. I know I am not the only one who is not completely informed on tuberculosis since, thankfully, it isn't as prevalent anymore. I think if the author had taken the time to provide a brief overview of tuberculosis it would have enhanced my read.
- This book utilizes numerous flashbacks and the story flips back and forth between past and present. While I have no problems with flashbacks in books, I was at times a bit confused because the flashbacks were not always apparent and there was no definite sequence to them. Meaning it could land anywhere back in time and it was not sequential. The flashbacks were not seamlessly integrated and it made it a bit rough at times.
- It ended with a bit of an open ending and though I made up my own mind how Dr. Pike finished his letter, there is always that bit of niggling doubt....I always hate not having a clear cut resolution because it leaves me wondering.
A White Wind Blows was a book that touched my soul and left me changed. I loved the characters and the difficulties they endured as they lived and died in a tuberculosis sanatorium. This book will make you laugh and cry. It is definitely a book that I highly recommend and I know I will be thinking about it for weeks to come.
"Bullets don't care what color the skin is."
"My only cure is to make them happy. Make them look forward to opening their eyes the next morning. That is my mission now."
"But do you believe this musical medicine to have purpose?" "I do, Professor." Wolfgang walked with books in his arms. "It is not the answer as far as cure, but I do believe it helps the soul, and when the soul is at peace, healing can take place."
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for this review.
This completes another read from my TBR Challenge!