Rediscover Twin American Explorers Christopher and Columbus

Mr. Twist talks to the twins, "Christopher and Columbus"

Countess Elizabeth Von Arnim makes Christopher and Columbus a joyous romp as twin orphans and their staunch friend who “would have been very handsome indeed if he hadn’t had a face” put their wits together to figure out how to survive in America’s 1916 anti-German hysteria.

Anna-Rose and Anna-Felicitas Twinkler, “very German outside and very English inside,” bravely call themselves Christopher and Columbus because they’re going to discover America.

The twin’s shipboard friend Edward Twist  is “a born mother. The more trouble he was given the more attached he became.”

The 17-year-olds, happily rolling their r’s , give Mr. Twist a great deal of trouble indeed.

The first “family friend” to whom the girls are sent has just left her home and her husband.

Edward and his sister would give the girls a home, but their dragon of a mother spits fire at having the twins under her roof.

The twins take matters into their own hands, entrain for California, and find another closed door.

Edward goes to their rescue.

What a country, Mr. Twist had thought, fresh from his work in France, fresh from where people were profoundly occupied with the great business of surviving at all. Here he came back from a place where civilization toppled, where deadly misery, deadly bravery, heroism that couldn’t be uttered, staggered month after month among ruins, and found America untouched, comfortable, fat, still with time to worry over the suspected amorousness of the rich, still putting people into uniforms in order to buttonhole a man on landing and cross-question him as to his private purities.

Von Arnim crafts a tangled plot, peoples it with believable characters, and lards the pages with witty descriptions such as, “She was a lady whose figure seemed to be all meals.”

Don’t leave this 1919 charmer undiscovered.

Christopher and Columbus
by Countess Elizabeth Von Arnim
1919 bestseller #9
Project Gutenberg ebook #14646
My grade: B

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

My Personal Favorites from 1923

The 1923 bestseller list doesn’t include any great books, but it includes a trio that I’d like in my personal hardback collection:  a light, but thoughtful romance and two very different thrillers.

The Enchanted April enchanted me

My favorite 1923 bestselling novel is The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim. It’s a sunny novel, full of descriptions that made me laugh out loud before reading  the lines aloud to savor their sounds.

Beyond that, though, the novel is wise and reflective. The four female leads discover their unhappiness is due more to their attitudes than to their circumstances.

A little vacation away from home, housework, husbands, and London’s rain, give them enough physical and mental rest that they can see their lives are really pretty good.

Running through the novel is the suggestion that life is to be enjoyed as it happens. Living in the past, as Mrs. Fisher is inclined to do, or loathing the present in anticipation of happiness in heaven as Rose does, are as unsatisfactory as Lottie’s and Lady Caroline’s teeth-gritting through every day.

If The Enchanted April sounds too feminine for you, my two other top picks from 1923 may be more appealing.

Wanderer of the Wasteland left me gasping

Zane Grey’s The Wanderer of the Wasteland pits man against Mother Nature and against his human nature. The plot is not a typical western either. Grey has some surprises that show real mastery of his craft.

The wasteland of the novel is Death Valley. It looks inhospitable when seen from the highway. Zane Grey takes readers there on foot, to experience a climate that’s not just hot, but poisonous. Grey’s descriptions left me gasping.

The Sea Hawk had unusual 16th century view

My third choice from the  1923 bestseller list is another thriller about hunk with a cranium: The Sea Hawk by Rafael Sabatini. The Sea Hawk is an action thriller; it’s easily to imagine Errol Flynn playing Sir Oliver in a film version of the story.

The conflict in The Sea Hawk is man against man: Sir Oliver Tressilian will tackle anyone who stands in his way, whether they be Spanish,  Islamic, or his own half-brother.

Though the novel is very physical, Sabatini gives Sir Oliver brains and a developing moral sense that, along with the context of  state-sponsored piracy in the 16th century,  raise The Sea Hawk above the slash-and-burn level.

That wraps up my reading of the 1923 bestsellers.

Through the first week in September, I’m going to be picking up some novels I missed when they should have been reviewed a couple of years ago.