But, of late, that’s begun to pall…so much so, that I didn’t even bother picking up Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel, a book I would have pounced on a few years ago.
However, enough rambling and on to the book.
Texas by James Michener is one of those massive, massive tomes packed full with the history of Texas – starting from the days of the early Mexican settlers till the oil and real estate boom of the 20th century.
Now, I know next to nothing about American history – just the little bits and pieces I picked up from college history classes and Gone With the Wind :D. So, reading Texas was quite an education for me.
The novel starts with a fictional “Task Force” of modern day Texans chosen by the Governor to review Texas’ history education for the school system. From there it delves into the history of Texas. The epic that follows is typical of James Michener novels, spread over more than a thousand gripping pages, with each page more gripping than the last! OK, ok, so not everything was gripping. The beginning starts off really slowly. Texas (or Tejas) as it was known then was largely an empty wasteland with just a few Indian tribes living there. It was slowly discovered by the Mexicans who visited the place in search of a mythical city of gold, and failing to find that, attempt to “civilize” the local Indians into a Christian way of life.
These early sections are quite slow-moving. It’s only once other settlers enter that conflicts start…Mexicans, Indians, Europeans, and Americans struggle to carve out an existence on the land.
These conflicts form the most interesting part of the book. The story of how Texas manages to get autonomy from Mexico, becomes an independent country (I never knew Texas was actually a country once), and then merges into USA is a very thrilling, violent, and sometimes sad story. And it’s the meat of the book really.
Other conflicts over North/South loyalties, the question of slavery, and the fight against the Comanche Indians is also covered in this book.
Everything very interesting, until we come to the 20th century. The discovery of oil and the real estate boom and bust story was pretty stereotypical, and not very interesting at all. I guess at this point, I was ready for the book to end, but unfortunately not…I pretty much ran out of steam around 300 pages to the end, and just ended up speed-reading it without too much interest.
The only interesting part in this section was the way the elections were conducted. The book openly states that most votes from the South Texas border area were bought, and that both Republicans and Democrats engaged in all sorts of election chicanery.
Hmm! I thought that sort of thing only happened in India. Interesting to see that this is not just a third-world problem as I had previously thought. Of course, by now, with all the computerization, this kind of fraud is probably a lot less there.
All in all, a very interesting and informative book. It could have done better with more ruthless editing in the beginning and in the end, but I liked it overall. It really helped me to gain some insight into the place, its geography, and the nature of the people.
I definitely know that if/when I visit Texas, I won’t be an ignorant tourist.