*This book was sent to me by the publisher, Sourcebooks Landmark, in exchange for an honest review.
In 1920s Louisville, a pall rests over Louisville in the form of Waverly Hills, a tuberculosis sanatorium. Terrified of disease, the town shuns recovered patients as well as those who work at Waverly Hills, knowing survival rates are slim. But disease isn’t the only thing hanging over Louisville – racial tension and Prohibition also hover, and Dr. Wolfgang Pike has seen the best and worst of all three. After losing his wife, Dr. Pike attempts to compose her requiem, but already torn between his desire to become a priest and the desire to heal and bring peace to his patients through music, the music lies unfinished.
Though his boss fights him with every tune, every chord, Wolfgang knows music can lift up those in despair. He’s seen it happen, as has Susannah, the nurse who encourages him, and his patients. When one particularly ornery patient resists, Wolfgang seeks him out, wanting to know his secrets, convinced he can be helped. But as Wolfgang pushes, moving a piano into the hospital and later inviting black musicians to join from the unsanitary segregated hospital below, he encounters forces stronger than Dr. Barker, and Wolfgang must decide if the music he loves is, in fact, capable of healing.
A White Wind Blew was a complete surprise to me. It seems a meek novel, at first, the kind in which race is discussed but not all that fully, where death misses the characters you grow to love, where the main character falls in love and lives happily ever after. I would have hated that novel.
What James Markert has done instead (though a touch haltingly, at times) is to animate the real history of Waverly Hills while also confronting the issues of a conflicted man, a man unsure of who he is but desirous of doing the most good. At the same time, Markert develops Waverly Hills and its residents in ways that are realistic and touching – the couple who meets and marries only to fall ill weeks later; the man devastated by war and unable to play the music he once loved; a black man whose entire family was taken by disease but who serves in defiance of it and who acts as go between for the two hospitals. Markert lends them a dignity no one else at the time does, and my only critique would be that I’d love to delve deeper into his cast of characters.
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