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Book Reviews

Milt Gross Book Review: "Western" by Frank Yerby
By Milt Gross
May 17, 2015 - 8:40:10 AM

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Western was a novel that gave me probably as much factual information about the West of the 1870s than all other westerns I've read combined. And it was filled with action told in a way that made the whole story seem true. Milt Gross photo.
The late Frank Yerby is probably the best writer I've ever read, and I've read a lot over the years since my parents began buying me books at Christmas.

I had never heard of Yerby before my good wife found this book, Western, I believe at the town's recycling center. But now that I've heard of him, I'll keep my reading eye cocked for more of his novels.

Yerby's life was interesting as Western, a saga of the Great Plains.

According to Wikipedia, "(September 5, 1916 -- November 29, 1991) was an African-American historical novelist. He is best known as the first African-American writer to become a millionaire from his pen, and to have a book purchased by a Hollywood studio for a film adaptation.

"Yerby was born in Augusta, Georgia, to Rufus Garvin Yerby and Wilhelmina Smythe, both natives of Georgia. Both of his parents were listed as Mullato in Census records before and after their marriage; according to the late, Yerby he had a combination of Caucasian, Cherokee, and African-American ancestors, though in the 1930 and 1940 Censuses of the United States the family members were listed simply as 'Negro'. He graduated from Haines Normal Institute in Augusta and graduated from Paine College in 1937. Thereafter, Yerby enrolled in Fisk University where he received his Master's degree in 1938. In 1939, Yerby entered the University of Chicago to work toward his doctorate but later left the university. Yerby taught briefly at Florida A&M University and at Southern University in Baton Rouge.

"Yerby was originally noted for writing romance novels set in the Antebellum South. In mid-century, Yerby embarked on a series of best-selling historical novels ranging from the Athens of Pericles to Europe in the Dark Ages. Yerby took considerable pains in research, and often footnoted his historical novels. In all, he wrote 33 novels. In 1946, he published The Foxes of Harrow, a southern historical romance, which became the first novel by an African American to sell more than a million copies. In this work he faithfully reproduced many of the genre's most familiar features, with the notable exception of his representation of African-American characters, who bore little resemblance to the "happy darkies" that appeared in such well known works as Gone With the Wind. That same year he also became the first African American to have a book purchased for screen adaptation by a Hollywood studio, when 20th Century Fox optioned Foxes. Ultimately, the book became a 1947 Oscar-nominated film of the same name starring Rex Harrison and Maureen O'Hara.

"In some regards, Yerby is best known for his masterpiece, Dahomean. The 1971 publication of Dahomean, which focuses on the life of an enslaved African chief's son who is transported to America, serves as the culmination of Yerby's efforts toward incorporating racial themes into his works. Prior to that, Yerby was often criticized by blacks for the lack of focus on or stereotypical treatment of African-American characters in his books.

In 2012, The New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote an article telling about an at-risk child whose life was turned around by reading Yerby books that one of his teachers was secretly providing to him.

"Yerby left the United States in 1955 in protest against racial discrimination, moving to Spain (then under the Franco regime), where he remained for the rest of his life. Frank Yerby died from congestive heart failure in Madrid and was interred there in the Cementerio de la Almudena. In 2006, Yerby was posthumously inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. In 2013, the Augusta Literary Festival created an award to honor Frank Yerby. This award is given to three fiction authors from a submission pool."

He wrote 28 novels, according to Wikipedia.

The paperback Western, published for the first time by Dell, New York in 1983, has a price of $3.95 on the cover. Amazon.com sells the hardcover version for $25.45 and the paperback for $34.95. But the passage of time and normal inflation no doubt raised the price.

The story takes place in Kansas after the Civil War, and is the saga of Ethan Lovejoy, who begins a small ranch and years later prospers and owns several ranches. It deals with his wife, Anne, who becomes mentally ill and eventually passes away, which is convenient as Lovejoy, while teaching school falls in love with a teenager, Nora, and following a large part of his life denying it, marries her.

His brother Jonathan, was killed during the Civil War. Indians, an old hunter, and many others join Lovejoy in his life's story.

A feature of the book I enjoyed was Yerby's sharing information about the West, which I'd never before read.

For an exceptional read of an outstanding western, buy a copy of Western for yourself, sit back, and enjoy it.

It's a story I'll never forget by an author I'll also never forget.


Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at lesstraveledway@roadrunner.com.

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2014


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