Rylander Memorial Library

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August 20, 2007 Review

Reviews of The Lady and the Panda, The Snoring Bird, and Mae Demaray's life of security and love, beauty and faith.

Reading recommendations

Submitted by Nancy Bannister

August 20, 2007

The Lady and the Panda: the true adventures of the first  American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal  by Vicki Constantine Croke.

Here is the astonishing true story of Ruth Harkness, the Manhattan bohemian who, against all but impossible odds, trekked to Tibet in 1936 to capture the most mysterious animal of the day; a bear that had for countless centuries live in secret in a labyrinth of lonely, cold mountains.  In The Lady and the Panda,  Vicky Constantine Croke gives us a remarkable account of Ruth Harkness and her extraordinary journey and restores Harkness to her rightful place along with Sacagawea, Nellie Bly, and Amelia Earhart as one of the great women adventurers of our time.

Ruth was the toast of 1930's New York, a dress designer newly married to a wealthy adventurer, Bill Harkness.  Just weeks after their wedding, however, Bill decamped for China in hopes of becoming the first Westerner to capture a giant panda, an expedition on which may had embarked and failed miserably.  Bill was also to fail in his quest, dying horribly alone in China and leaving his widow heartbroken and adrift.   And so Ruth made the fateful decision to adopt her husband's dream as her own and set off on the adventure of a lifetime

It was not easy.  Indeed, everything was against Ruth Harkness.  in decadent Shanghais she was patronized, scorned, and joked about her softness, her lack of experience and money.  But Ruth managed to organize a bare-bones expedition into the hinterlands where China borders Tibet.  This then is a marvelous account of her voyage, a classic take of survival and victory over all odds, and  a deeply moving adventure. 

Many of you know our daughter-in-law, Pamela.  Pamela's mother's family was close to T. V. Soong, brother to Madame Chiang Kai-shek. It was at this time of great upheaval they were forced to leave China.  This book deals with many happenings and events we've heard of through the years from Pamela's family. 

And, The Snoring Bird, my Family's Journey through a Century of Biology,  by Bernd Heinrich.   

From Bernd Heinrich, the bestselling author of Winter World,  comes the remarkable story of his father's life, his family's past, and how the forces of history and nature have shaped his own life.  Although Bernd Heinrich's father Gerd, a devoted naturalist, specialized in wasps, Bernd tried to distance himself from his " old fashioned" father becoming a hybrid: a modern experimental biologist with a  naturalist's sensibilities.

In this remarkable memoir, the award winning author share the ways in which his relationship with his father, combined with his unique childhood, molded him into the scientist, and man, he is today.  From Gerd's days as a soldier in Europe to the family's escape from he Red Army in 1945, to the rustic Maine farm they came to call home, Heinrich related it all in his trademark style, making science accessible and awe inspiring.  And a story of the old lavish European lifestyle, World War II bringing it to an end forever.

And,  a dear little book, Mae Demaray's life of security and love, beauty and faith.  It carried the scent of flowers, the sound of quiet at daybreak, the laughter of children, the touch of God, all giving her the satisfying sense of life to it's fullness.  But that was before the March day when Mae's world was shaken to it's very center. 

Yet surely a new day would soon break with light rising gently, giving hope for restoration.  Surely there must be A Place Called Morning.  "the wings of the morning brought a gladness the night had stolen," Ann Tatlock.

See you at Rylander!