Monday, November 22, 2010

The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia

I mentioned in a post on Friday how much I was enjoying The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia by Mary Helen Stefaniak. Now that I have finished, I can say that my initial love didn't diminish at all as the story wore on. I was thoroughly entertained by this novel.

One of the big reasons I loved this one so much is Miss Spivey, the teacher who has come to Threestep, Georgia. Miss Spivey is a woman of the world, having traveled and had many adventures before trying her hand at educating the children of this small (and poor) town. It is 1938 and there is a huge divide between the white population and the African American one, which is a problem for a woman who has seen the world and has it in her mind that she can change the way things have been done for longer than her lifetime. (As I'm reading I am seeing flashes of Grandma Dowdel from Richard Peck's novels - such is the creative and entertaining way that Miss Spivey sets about to work her magic). Of course it was easy to see that Miss Spivey wouldn't be able to last in such a small town - she raised too many questions with the way she expected blacks and whites to be treated in the same way, but it was such a delight to read about the way she taught her students and her creativity.

Narrated by Gladys, her recollection of events is entertaining, and brought a smile to my face quite often. Her brother Force, named for Forceps - the method of his birth- is quite the handsome young man. When Miss Spivey spins a tale about Force being switched at birth with an Arabian knight, Gladys is a willing believer. Force has such charisma that when Gladys discovers his secret romance with Miss Spivey, it is no surprise. However, the one change I would make to this story involves resolving this relationship. While many loose ends are tied up as Gladys explains what happened to the characters, Force and Miss Spivey are not talked about again.

Threestep, Georgia or Baghdad, Georgia as the town became known - renamed for the bazaar Miss Spivey organized the first year- complete with camels- continued to celebrate this spectacular event after Miss Spivey's departure. Theo, the resident genius, an African American boy came to life each year as he recreated this annual event. While Miss Spivey wasn't able to bring the town around to her way of doing things entirely, she certainly left her mark as this activity came to be solely because of her.

Funny, entertaining, thought-provoking, touching, including a cast of off-beat characters, I can hardly wait to read more by this talented author.

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