The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart
Review anonymously submitted
You might look at the cover image, think Western, and pass this one by and, most times, I would be right there with you. (Forgive me if Westerns are a favorite genre). What gave me pause were the words of high praise from Tim O’Brien on the back cover of the book. And, at the time the book cover caught my eye, I was looking for something out of my comfort zone. I was intrigued with the idea of reading a masculine book, a book about men and the relationship between fathers and sons.
Set at the turn of the century, this is a harsh story that matches the hardscrabble landscape of a Texas farm owned by an embittered, and, at times, cruel farmer, Vaclev Skala, who drives his sons hard, to the point of harnessing them to the yoke to plow his fields. Valclev is land hungry and, at heart, a gambler and he therefore accepts a challenge from a wealthy Mexican landowner, Guillermo Villasenor, also avaricious for more land. Villasenor offers his three daughters in marriage to three of Vaclev’s sons, should his horse win, thus laying claim to Valclev’s landholdings or ceding over his own considerable land holdings should he be the loser.
The outcome of this race, ridden by Vaclev’s youngest son, Karel, causes a powerful rift between him and his three brothers, from whom he is already alienated and which endures for years until a near tragedy creates the circumstances for forgiveness and a chance to overcome the past.
The language is perfectly matched to the landscape and the characters are complex and sympathetic. Though completely out of my reading bailiwick, I loved this book. I was completely transported to another time and place and my heart ached for these men and the circumstances of their lives. In the words of Tim O’Brien, “The prose is polished and evocative, the physicality of rural Texas in the year 1910 shimmers with loving exactitude, and the story of Karel Skala is a gripping American drama of misplaced guilt, familial struggle, and a search for identity. What a fine, rich, absorbing book.”
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