Well since I couldn’t participate in the REAL “Club 1944”  at the time (and I was SO looking forward to it too)– I will just go ahead and do my own– reading all my 1944 books until down, then perhaps, I will be caught up for the next “Club” in the spring. So without further adieu, my first book to kick it off that I have recently finished is “Anna And The King Of Siam” by Margaret Landon, published 1944.

 

5 ***** stars!

A biographical retelling (with fictional bits to fill in the holes) of Anna Leonowens life. A daughter of a British military man, and spending part of her childhood in India, Anna was acquainted with many customs that may have been deemed exotic to the Western world. After school in England, and reuniting with her mother in India, who had remarried after the death of Anna’s father, Anna bucked the controlling step-father and married another British military man whom her step-father felt was beneath her position. Having a few children, (2 died in infancy), and suffering further tragedy with the loss of her mother and then husband, she was hard pressed to provide for her children. Anna decided to open a school for military children out of necessity for income, but her success as an educator soon reached the ears of King Mongkut, king of Siam. He corresponded with her to try to secure her to teach his 82 royal children as well as some of his favored harem. Against the advice of her closest friends, she agreed, taking her young son Louis with her, and having to part with her daughter Avis that had to leave to begin her education in England. Upon arriving in Siam, she was hit with tons of culture shock, and the harsh realities of life there, not only for the poor, but women of any class, and the institution of slavery that was very much a part of life. The longer she was there, the more she saw the injustices on many levels, and she felt it was her mission, or “calling” you might say, appointed by God to make a difference for the future of these people through the education of the royal young. The story draws on not only her diaries and journals, but letters from her children, from her to others, from the King to other dignitaries, and even official royal decrees. The down-trodden and even women of the harem would often come to her for help in some injustice because of her close proximity to the king and access to his ear, along with her unwillingness to back down. She had much success and the king was often angry with her, but her drive to make a difference did not go unnoticed– even years later, when her grandson visited the country and wanted to see where she had lived, all gladly showed him the home of “the white angel”. Her efforts did make a tremendous impact too, even though at the time she felt as if no progress was being made, when one of her students, Prince Chulalongkorn, became king. Because of the impact of her teaching on him, he himself said that he desired to abolish slavery in Siam, do away with the custom of prostration and human worship, building schools and hospitals throughout the country….. and much more, so that the Thai consider him their greatest king. I loved this book, and another example of how one person can make a powerful difference.