Notes from the Book Group on September 17, 2013

Recollections of the Meeting of the Bryn Mawr Book Group on

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

for A Prisoner of Birth, by Jeffrey Archer

Present: Roo Dane, host, Anne Ipsen, Sandra Lovell, Dorianne Low, Sydney Owens, Barbara Powell, and myself.

{Next book is by Jane Parry Tompkins, BMC ’61 –A Life in School – What the Teacher Learned  on Wed. Oct. 23,  Please note new time – 6:30 pm start– to accommodate distant travelers }

Piecing together this story was a joyous memory challenge. After a gross plot rendition for those who hadn’t completed the book, each of the readers contributed explanations of who was whom – Nick the Laird, imprisoned for military matters, shares a cell with Danny, a mechanic falsely accused and convicted of the murder of his best friend from the old neighborhood. Here comes suspension of disbelief: the two become close friends, and during their time together Danny learns upper-class manners and speech from Nick (echoes of Pygmalion; My Fair Lady…), who trusts him with his identifying ring and key pendant any time he is away from his cell. They even look alike.

One day foul players (sent by his false friends) seek Danny to kill him but instead kill Nick in the shower. Danny jumps into the role of Nick, is released on parole, and promptly acts to claim the Scottish family fortune, also claimed by Uncle Hugo and his Lady Macbeth of a wife, forged testament as witness . There is an estate in play, a valuable stamp collection, and, for Danny, twisted realty revenge on his false friends. Also reunion with his fiancee Beth and their daughter.

Various lawyers join Danny’s side, and the legal part of the story is fascinating – very different from US jurisprudence (cf. Silk, recently on Masterpiece Theater). The description of prison life is realistic and gripping; the mystery of the stamp evidence was brilliant. Spunky Beth was refreshing in her determination to learn the truth about Laird Nick’s killing.

We agreed that once you suspend your expectations of an ordinary story you will be regaled by Archer’s skill and imagination. (Other titles of his include Kane and Abel, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less….)

Other suggestions for books to read and discuss were:

The Art Forger, by Amy Waldman (very current re copies of masterpieces, stolen and otherwise);

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey, by Fiona Countess of Carnarvon;

Asunder, by Chloe Aridjis (daughter of BMC ’61 Betty Ferber), an introspective jewel starring a museum gallery guard;

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared,  by Jonas Jonasson. “…A  new and charmingly funny version of world history [about] a very youthful old man whose global influence knows no age limit.”

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan: “Two thousand years ago, an itinerant Jewish preacher and miracle worker walked across the Galilee, gathering followers to establish what he called the ‘Kingdom of God.’ The revolutionary movement he launched was so threatening to the established order that he was captured, tortured, and executed as a state criminal.”

My Beloved World, by Sonia Sotomayor. In this her autobiography, she recounts her life from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench, a journey that offers an inspiring testament to her own extraordinary determination and the power of believing in oneself.