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A Parchment of Leaves by Silas House

A Parchment of Leaves (2002)

by Silas House

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Wow, did I love this book. It is a southern novel, in Appalachian Kentucky back in the days when cars were rare and things were so much different.

The novel is told from Vine's perspective. Vine is a young Cherokee Indian woman who marries a white man after she saves his brother from a snakebite.

I must say, the atmosphere and scenery in this novel was beautiful, and I fell in love with Vine. She has such a unique voice.

Most of the novel is about Vine trying to overcome the obstacles of being darker skinned and having to leave her family.

If you love southern literature, this is the novel for you. ( )
  Alexander19 | May 16, 2014 |
Every now and then I receive a book recommendation that completely surprises me (in a good way). A Parchment of Leaves by Silas House is one such book. I belong to a local book group that meets at the Charleston Town Center Mall on the last Wednesday of each month in the Community Room at Panera Bread Company (if you're in the Kanawha County area please join us).

The story is set in eastern Kentucky during the early 1900s and centers on a young Cherokee woman and her experiences with her non-Cherokee husband and his family. Although there is racism evident against Cherokees, this is not the heart of this story. Vine is a beautiful young woman that becomes enamored with Saul Sullivan. Saul is just as entranced and in love with Vine and the two marry. Vine accompanies her husband to his family's land and leaves all that she has known behind.

The life that Saul and Vine lead is not considered a hard-scrabble life, but they do have to work hard. They must build their own home, which they do with the assistance of neighbors and family. They grow most of the vegetables and must slaughter chickens and hogs for meat. Vine washes their clothes on rocks at the nearby creek and they obviously don't have indoor plumbing, running water or even electricity. Vine and Saul don't miss these things simply because they've never had them and it isn't expected. Saul works hard at the local mill and Vine works equally as hard keeping house. Eventually Vine gets pregnant and gives birth to a little girl they name Birdy.

As World War I begins, Saul wants to help with the war effort and volunteers to work in the next county. This job means that he'll be gone for long periods of time. Vine gets along well with her mother-in-law and loves her new family. But she is also wary of her brother-in-law Aaron. He has never openly done anything, but he simply always seems to be underfoot and watching her, even when she's out in the woods or walking with friends. She is extremely cautious about Aaron but Saul thinks he's harmless. Aaron isn't exactly irresponsible, but he's never held down a job and seems to want to experience a hundred different jobs all at once. After some time Aaron leaves the family and is gone for months before returning with a wife - a young and pregnant wife. Aaron's marriage gives Vine hope that he's no longer attracted to her, until it is pointed out that his wife, Aidia, bears a strong resemblance to her.

I could give you more details about the story, but I'll stop here. It is sufficient for me to note that this is an excellent portrayal of rural Appalachian life during the early 1900s. Mr. House has crafted a story that is captivating and utterly believable. This isn't a glossed-over, rose-colored view of rural life, all of the hassles, trials and tribulations are deftly revealed. I become so engrossed in the story that I had to finish it in one sitting, even staying up late to do so. Saul is initially the typical strong but silent man that openly loves his family. He becomes more outgoing as the story evolves but remains openly loving of his family. Vine isn't a traditional housewife and mother although she deals with all of the household chores with ease. Their marriage has its share of ups and downs, usually as a result of outside forces. The story is different and the voice of Vine is unique, such that A Parchment of Leaves had me in a hurry to collect more literary fiction by Mr. House. ( )
1 vote BookDivasReads | Nov 30, 2011 |
A Parchment of Leaves is a heart-wrenching story of the hardships of Cherokee Indians and life in the Appalachian Mountains.

One theme that particularly stood out in this Silas House novel was the love of the land. Vine, one of the main characters in the book is a Cherokee Indian. She was born and raised by her Cherokee parents on Redbud Camp. She was taught to be respectful to the land and use it for good, not destroying it for unmeaningful purposes. Vine looked at plants with love and admiration.

Cherokee Indians were deprived of many privileges and went through turmoil with being treating equal as the "white folk". Silas House uses this personal love story as a means of showing the persistence and determination that this Cherokee Indian, Vine, had. Through her kind heart, love for the land, and bravery, Vine teaches us many valuable lessons.
1 vote grubbymonster | Aug 3, 2011 |
House is so good at describing the Appalachian area. I always enjoy his down-to-earth romantic themes with a believable plot. House takes us on a trip to the early 1900s where racism existed between Indians, townies and holler people. Fantastic description of character and a respectful tribute to this era. ( )
1 vote Rice4Life | Jan 19, 2011 |
This is a beautifully written story of love and family, guilt and forgiveness. The prologue and epilogue are written in third person, while the body of the story is narrated by Vine, a Cherokee descended from a group who hid during Removal and remained in their Kentucky mountains. Now the mid-1910s, big-man in town is ousting the Redbud Camp Cherokees without so much as payment for their land, taking over their mountain to build his mansion. Saul is sent to work on clearing the building area, when he meets and falls in love with Vine.

I loved this book. I’m trying to work out why it spoke to me so. It’s not historically significant, or deep, or fancy in any way. It is written in very simple language. “And then I knowed that I was fooling myself. The rains of spring would not wash away what had already been done.” Simple, but with such beauty and clarity. The setting, though we still see it through Vine’s simple words, is just as lovely to my mind as it is to her eyes. You come to know her places and what she thinks of them, as if you are there, too. Her garden, the path between their home and her mother-in-law’s home, the cooling river, her old home-place – the scenery was lovingly painted. The characters were true to their time, their thoughts and motives believable. And so well described that you could see them in your mind and know how they felt. Perhaps it’s the Cherokee in me, or the fact that I spent my youthful summers in a place very similar to the area described, or that I’ve known and loved my share of Esmes. I don’t know why; I just loved it!

Mr. House’s creation has a lot to like. I liked both mothers; I liked the local midwife. Not sure about the violets. Where I’m from, violets bloom in the early spring, and then just a month or two. They wouldn’t be there for the picking on a hot, sultry day. Maybe they grow a different kind in Kentucky; hope so, ‘cause I don’t want to not like anything about this book. But I forgive him if he got that wrong, because everything else felt so right, including speaking a woman’s voice – he even got that right. If you happen on this review, please go check out the CK for quotations from Parchment of Leaves so you can read some snippets from the pen of Silas House. Then I’m sure you’ll want to read his book yourself.

One of my top four reads this year. I loved it! ( )
2 vote countrylife | May 12, 2010 |
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Part One: Confluence.

There is so much writ upon the parchment of leaves,
So much of beauty blown upon the winds,
I can but fold my hands and sink my knees
In the leaf pages.
-James Still, “I Was Born Humble”

Part Two: On the Mountain.

There are things in the forest that can kill you with ease.
-Lisa Parker, “Bloodroot”

Part Three: The Promise of Joy.

Dream of deep woods,
High purple hills, a small cool sky. -Jane Hicks, “Gershoem”
Betty Louise Walker House,
Thelma Jean Hoskins Smallwood,
Eleshia Ann Smallwood Sloan,
Teresa Ann Gambrel House
-the women who made me
First words
Prologue: There was much talk that spring of a Cherokee girl who was able to invoke curses on anyone passing her threshold.

Ch. 1: Those words flew out of my mouth, as sneaky and surprising as little birds that had been waiting behind my teeth to get out.
“Shh. Listen.” Her watery eyes would scan the treetops as a gentle breeze drifted over. “That’s the Creator passing through.” But bad as it is to admit, I had never thought a lot about the Lord. I did that day. I started believing the day my baby was born, because I could look right down and see proof of Him.
“I’d like to call her Birdie,” I told him. I knowed that his people cracked the Bible for names, but I didn’t care. … This was my one moment of creation. My mother had named me Vine in the hopes that I would help the earth to produce, that I would like to put my hands into the soil and find joy in seeing what came forth. It had worked for her. So I named my baby Birdie, hoping that she would sing to me every day of my life.
…Serena would never have to worry about killing a hog. A midwife – whose hands caught life – would never have been asked to kill so much as a gnat.
“The old ways sort of slipped in every once in a while – but my daddy wanted us to be Americans. He was raised to think this was best.” … “His granddaddy hid out during the Removal. Seen a lot of his people forced out I guess them tales kept getting handed down to Daddy and he didn’t want his children to be in danger of that happening again. He wanted us to fit in.” … “When Daddy was little, teachers would wash his mouth out with soap for speaking Cherokee,” I said.
I was not praying, but I was aware of God. I was so sure of His presence there that it amazed me to think I had once doubted His existence. … “I brung this little redbud with me from my home place, back where my people lived,” I said.
Last words
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345464974, Paperback)

It is the early 1900s in rural Kentucky, and young Saul Sullivan is heading up to Redbud Camp to look for work. He is wary but unafraid of the Cherokee girl there whose beauty is said to cause the death of all men who see her. But the minute Saul lays eyes on Vine, he knows she is meant to be his wife. Vine’s mother disapproves of the mixed marriage; Saul’s mother, Esme, has always been ill at ease around the Cherokee people. But once Vine walks into God’s Creek, Saul’s mother and brother Aaron take to her immediately. It quickly becomes clear to Vine, though, that Aaron is obsessed with her. And when Saul leaves God’s Creek for a year to work in another county, the wife he leaves behind will never be the same again. The violence that lies ahead for Vine, will not only test her spirit, but also her ability to forgive—both others and herself. . . .

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:32:47 -0400)

When Silas House made his debut with Clay's Quilt last year, it touched a nerve not just in his home state (where it quickly became a bestseller), but all across the country. Glowing reviews-from USA Today (House is letter-perfect with his first novel), to the Philadelphia Inquirer (Compelling. . . . House knows what's important and reminds us of the value of family and home, love and loyalty), to the Mobile Register (Poetic, haunting), and everywhere in between-established him as a writer to watch. His second novel won't disappoint. Set in 1917, A PARCHMENT OF LEAVES tells the story of Vine, a beautiful Cherokee woman who marries a white man, forsaking her family and their homeland to settle in with his people and make a home in the heart of the mountains. Her mother has strange forebodings that all will not go well, and she's right. Vine is viewed as an outsider, treated with contempt by other townspeople. Add to that her brother-in-law's fixation on her, and Vine's life becomes more complicated than she could have ever imagined. In the violent turn of events that ensues, she learns what it means to forgive others and, most important, how to forgive herself. As haunting as an old-time ballad, A PARCHMENT OF LEAVES is filled with the imagery, dialect, music, and thrumming life of the Kentucky mountains. For Silas House, whose great-grandmother was Cherokee, this novel is also a tribute to the family whose spirit formed him.… (more)

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