Summary and book reviews of A Strong West Wind by Gail Caldwell

A Strong West Wind

By Gail Caldwell

A Strong West Wind
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2006,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2007,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

In this exquisitely rendered memoir set on the high plains of Texas, Pulitzer Prize winner Gail Caldwell transforms into art what it is like to come of age in a particular time and place. A Strong West Wind begins in the 1950s in the wilds of the Texas Panhandle – a place of both boredom and beauty, its flat horizons broken only by oil derricks, grain elevators, and church steeples. Its story belongs to a girl who grew up surrounded by dust storms and cattle ranches and summer lightning, who took refuge from the vastness of the land and the ever-present wind by retreating into books. What she found there, from renegade women to men who lit out for the territory, turned out to offer a blueprint for her own future. Caldwell would grow up to become a writer, but first she would have to fall in love with a man who was every mother's nightmare, live through the anguish and fire of the Vietnam years, and defy the father she adored, who had served as a master sergeant in the Second World War.

A Strong West Wind is a memoir of culture and history–of fathers and daughters, of two world wars and the passionate rebellions of the sixties. But it is also about the mythology of place and the evolution of a sensibility: about how literature can shape and even anticipate a life.

Caldwell possesses the extraordinary ability to illuminate the desires, stories, and lives of ordinary people. Written with humanity, urgency, and beautiful restraint, A Strong West Wind is a magical and unforgettable book, destined to become an American classic.

Poised at the heart of so much open land, Amarillo, too, sprawled in a sort of languid disregard, as though territorial hegemony might make up for all that loneliness. Route 66 cut through the center of town as a streamlined reminder of what was out there to the west, and the trucks roared through town day and night, slaves to hope and white-line fever, heading for California or just somewhere else. The steak houses and truck stops at either end of the city confirmed these great distances, offering twenty-four-ounce T-bones along with the diesel fuel, and the neon from the all-night signs must have looked from the sky like paths of light—bright flashes of pink and green and white as the town grew sparser, flanked on the highway to the east and west alike by miles of open country.

Downtown in the 1950s was only a few blocks long, and the ...

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Reviews

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Inspired by Thomas Clayton Wolfe's first novel Look Homeward, Angel (1929) Caldwell left her childhood home to find her destiny, having had an inkling of what that might be during a summer internship with the local newspaper, where she discovered "a work world where eccentrics reigned." In the context of her childhood growing up in the Texas Bible Belt it is apt that she's taken the title of her book from Exodus 1:19: And the Lord changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
Washington Post - Sandra Scofield

In the first line of A Strong West Wind, Caldwell asks the question "How do we become who we are?" ...... So here is this smart writer's answer to the question of identity: We come to ourselves through our choice of archetypes; we create our own story. We become what we have loved.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Starred Review. [A] gorgeously written memoir about a life rooted in the Texas panhandle.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review.... the rhetoric is ...sufficient to leave the author floating too often in "poetic" abstraction. Nonetheless....her descriptive passages on college life in Austin in the '60s and '70s are wonderfully smart, moving and sympathetic--and she emerges as a memorable narrator.

Author Blurb Russell Baker
I loved A Strong West Wind. [Caldwell] writes of her adventures in the sixties and seventies, and the quest for truth in California, with the authentic voice of the children who once made life hell for the 'Greatest Generation' and in the process turned out pretty great themselves.

Author Blurb Richard Ford
Gail Caldwell's quiet, burnished memoir is a story of a life's affections--for her Texas parents, for the sere landscape of the panhandle, and for the road paved with book upon precious book that runs in both directions: far away and home again.

Author Blurb James Carroll
Gail Caldwell's book measures the sweep of one life against literature, history, legends of Texas, and the infallible truth of real feeling. This is a brave and moving work.

Author Blurb Ward Just
An elegant memoir. Gail Caldwell performs something like alchemy--taking the base metals of the Texas Panhandle badlands and turning them into pure gold.

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Beyond the Book

Gail Caldwell is the chief book critic for The Boston Globe, where she has been a staff writer and critic since 1985. In 2001, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism. She is also an avid rower. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"I don't feel that novels change the world. I think novels change people's hearts. People's hearts, one at a time, change the world." - Gail Caldwell.
Read an in-depth interview with Gail Caldwell at BookBrowse.

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