Do you remember
James Herriot's warm and funny stories
recollecting his time as a vet to the Yorkshire
farming community during the 1940s and 50s; stories
made all the more poignant because you felt you were
visiting a people and a place that no longer
existed? I grew up on those stories - when All
Creatures Great and Small was published in 1972
I was eight years old; by the time The Lord God
Made Them All came out in 1982, I was eighteen.
James Herriot was my J.K. Rowling and I have never
come across another writer quite like him since, so
it was a very happy surprise to open the
unprepossessing covers of Heart in the Right
Place to discover that the observant wit and wisdom
of Herriot lives on in Carolyn Jourdan's true tales
of life among the people of rural Tennessee - people
as eccentric, tough, stubborn and stoical as the
Yorkshire farmers of Herriot's time.
Nowhere is the contrast between Carolyn's old and new life more vividly shown than in chapter 19 when she looks back on just one of the thousands of days she spent in Washington in which she tells of a Senate Committee hearing to decide where to site a nuclear waste dump. Representatives of the various potential sites had traveled from all over the country at their own expense to testify - but the press had no interest in covering the hearing and, as the number one law in politics is no press, no politicians, the various Committee members barely bothered to make an appearance at the hearing, leaving quickly having confirmed that no cameras were present.
Once the committee members had left, the staff started to leave, noisily exiting the room. The impassioned people who had crossed the country to be heard were left testifying to a room empty but for Carolyn, who did the only decent thing she could - not daring to sit in one of the Senators' chairs she scooted her chair toward the front of the dais and took the testimony of each witness in turn making sure that each witness was given the opportunity to express their opinions fully because, as she so rightly points out, "the ability to confer attention on another person [is] not simply common courtesy, but [is] the fundamental act of humanity."
For fifty years, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, Carolyn's father practiced this fundamental act of humanity with humor and wisdom - something our public servants couldn't bring themselves to do for a couple of hours!
You can read one chapter at BookBrowse, and three more at the author's website - ample to decide if this is the book for you.
This review was originally published in August 2007, and has been updated for the August 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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