Belle has grown up in the wilds of Northern Michigan in Anne Arbor at the turn of the century. She loves going for long swims in the lake, hiking along the dunes and composing poetry. Young Belle became the caregiver to her younger brother Pip and her mother after Pip's birth took it's toll. Lovingly deemed Marmie by her brother, Belle continued her caretaker roll as her father ran the family stove business. After Belle's mother dies in a tragic accident, Belle becomes more involved in the family business, continues to care for her mother and begins the task of saying goodbye to her mother through poetry. At 21, Belle finally ventures off to college in Ann Arbor where she meets those who will become some of the most influential poets of the day. More importantly, she learns that her poetry stands up against the greats. While navigating college Belle still has a hand in her family business and assists Pip as he becomes an adult.
The Belle of Two Arbors is an epic tome that stretches US history through Belle's eyes from 1913 to 1953. Though Belle is fictional, her story shines light on many events in US history and is interwoven with the stories of poets, scholars and athletes who defined the time. Belle's character is immediately defined as strong, intelligent and sensitive. She is the original sandwich generation caretaker, expected to care for a parent and a child while still coming into her own. From the moment of her mother's death, I knew Belle would prove to be a force to be reckoned with. She proves this time and time again as she fights for women's rights, reproductive care, indigenous rights, equal rights and environmental conservation.
The writing in The Belle of Two Arbors is impressive; to carry me through several decades in almost 700 pages, Belle's story captivated and intrigued. In partnership with the poetry, the words painted a landscape and evoked strong feelings of love, loss and natural beauty. I truly did feel that the poetry was on par with the writers of the time.
Most importantly, for me, the history was brought alive. Through Belle and her real life people that have been entwined into her life I was able to get a glimpse into to life of Robert Frost and the creation of some of his poetry, a young Theodore Roethke and his troubled but inspirational journey, and Gertrude Ederle and her triumphs as the first female swimmer to cross the English Channel. Through time, I also witnessed Belle's triumphs through the Great Depression and World War II. Throughout everything, Belle's story reminds us that we are the greatest tool to shape the world around us.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.