The Year, 1961: Background information when reading Ordinary Grace

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Ordinary Grace

by William Kent Krueger

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2013, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2014, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
The Year, 1961

Print Review

Ordinary Grace is set in the Midwestern United States in 1961. Although it was a time of peace and prosperity for much of the country, many important events were taking place around the world that year:

  • January 20: President Kennedy 43-year-old John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th President of the United States, still the youngest person ever to hold the office.
  • January 31: Ham the Astrochimp became the first primate launched into outer space. The Cameroon-born Ham (which is an acronym for the Holloman Aerospace Medical Center where Ham was prepped), was five years old at the time. He returned successfully to earth and retired to the National Zoo in Washington. He died in 1983 at the age of 26.
  • February 9: The Beatles performed for the first time at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, England. From 1961 to 1963 The Beatles performed 292 times at the club. The venue was also where their manager, Brian Epstein, first saw them play (November 9, 1961). Click on the video below to watch the Beatles performing at the Cavern Club:



  • March 1: President Kennedy established the volunteer Peace Corp with goals that included providing technical assistance (generally social and economic development), helping people outside the U.S. understand American culture, and helping Americans understand the cultures of other countries. As of 2012, over 210,000 volunteers and trainees have served in 139 countries.
  • April 11: The trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, began in Jerusalem. He had lived in Argentina under assumed names until his apprehension by Mossad agents in 1960. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity and hanged in 1962 in Ramla, Israel
  • April 17: The CIA-funded Cuban Brigade 2506 attempted to overthrow the leftist government of President Osvaldo Torrado by invading La Batalla de Giron, known in the United States as The Bay of Pigs. The invasion was announced a failure by Cuba's Prime Minister, Fidel Castro, on April 20.
  • May 5: Alan ShepardAlan Shepard became the first American in space during a 15-minute suborbital flight and subsequent splashdown (one month after Soviet Yuri Gagarin's 108-minute orbital flight). The launch was broadcast live on television and seen by millions.
  • May 14: A Freedom Riders bus was fire-bombed near Anniston, Alabama. The civil rights activists, who rode into the segregated United States South to challenge prejudicial policies, were also beaten by an angry mob of white citizens. Later in the month the state's governor, John Patterson, declared martial law after race riots broke out.
  • May 15: Heinrich Matthaei performed experiments leading to the understanding of the genetic code. This day is considered the birthdate of the science of modern genetics.
  • May 30:Rafael Trujillo, totalitarian despot of the Dominican Republic since 1930, was killed in an ambush.
  • June 16: Rudolf NureyevFamed Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev defected in France. By the end of the following week, he was performing with a leading French ballet company.
  • June 19: The British dissolved its protectorate in Kuwait. Iran announced its intention to annex it less than a week later. The Kuwaiti emirate requested assistance and the UK immediately sent troops to protect it. The Arab League took over responsibility for its protection in October of the same year.
  • July 2: Ernest Hemingway committed suicide.
  • August 13-31: The Berlin Wall was constructed, separating East Germany from West Germany. The 96-mile (155 km) barrier was 12 feet tall (3.6 m) in sections and included 302 guard towers. It was dismantled in 1989.
  • September 18: UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld died in an air crash. Later in the year he was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • October 1: New York Yankee Roger Maris hit his 61st home run, beating Babe Ruth's 1927 record.
  • October 18: The Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim collaboration West Side Story was released. The movie starring Natalie Wood was based on the 1957 Broadway musical and was a modern retelling of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. It won numerous Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (George Chakiris) and Actress (Rita Moreno). Click on the video below to see the trailer for the movie:



  • October 30: The Soviet Union detonated a 58-megaton yield hydrogen bomb. The nuclear weapon, known as Tsar Bomba, remains the largest ever man-made explosion. It was originally designed to yield 100 megatons but was scaled back to reduce nuclear fallout.
  • November 10: Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22 was published.
  • November 18: President Kennedy sent 18,000 "military advisors" to South Vietnam. The American involvement in the Vietnam War officially began on December 11 with the arrival of U.S. helicopters in Saigon.

Picture of Alan Shepard from Alan Shepard Astronaut Scholarship Foundation

Article by Kim Kovacs

This article is from the April 17, 2013 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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