The Cassandra by Sharma Shields
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Reading THE CASSANDRA is a monumental Reading Experience. I read it in a matter of hours because I couldn't turn away, I couldn't stop reading, and I thought about it all night afterwards. This literary historical novel was my first introduction to author Sharma Shields, and it "blew me away." I'd long been interested in the World War II history of Hanford, Washington, so I was excited to discover this novel, but I received far more than I expected. Not only is Sharma Shields an incredibly gifted writer, she also paints so capably the history, the individuals, and yes, "the product," the driving force and rationale for the military installation at Hanford, once a village and home of a native tribe who fished the Columbia River. Before World War II, the air there was pure and the Columbia safe from pollution. That was soon not the case. Ms. Shields very subtly draws on the damage, both to the region, to the inhabitants, to the personnel at the installation, and of course to the end result: Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
She also weaves in prophecy (hence the title), reflections on humanity as a species, and individual terms, and metaphysics and psychology. (Whether it is one or the other of those last two likely depends on one's perspective.) Protagonist Mildred Groves (her life still makes me shudder) is a plain, rather plump, young woman from a small Central Washington community, caretaker of an ailing mother. Mildred may have psychological issues (if so, that is quite understandable); or she may actually be a seer, a prophetess. In order to escape her life, she applies as a typist at the new Hanford installation, and indeed she is highly skilled in stenography and typing. However, her personality is not strong nor stable enough to withstand the constant stresses, and just as many of the men break under the constant wind if they are assigned outdoors, so does Mildred lose control of her prophesying, and just as in school, she again becomes known as "Mad Mildred."
This is just one of the layers of this complex story. There is also rqcism, sexism, sadism, and the horrible nature of state mental hospitals, militarism, rape culture, patriarchy. Even though this is the story of one individual, it is also the story of a time, of a process, of horrifying consequences, and a prediction of a vitally bleak future for the globe. I cannot recommend highly enough THE CASSANDRA.
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