The Place Where Souls Are Born is part of Simon and Schuster’s Destination Series. In a short yet illuminating introduction, the noted travel writer Jan Morris shares her observations concerning the unique qualities which a first-rate novelist can bring to a travel book. Thomas Keneally has proven in such novels as THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH (1972), SCHINDLER’S LIST (1982), and TO ASMARA (1989) that he is one of the most striking moral voices writing in English. Keneally points out in his preface to this volume that he had become entranced by the American Southwest during his youthful days at the cinema. Keneally first visited the region in the 1970’s and he was startled to find how the movies had inadequately prepared him for the real Southwest. In this latest excursion, Keneally takes on the responsibility of introducing the reader to the geography, the history, and the myths of this rich and varied American region.
Starting in Denver, Colorado, Keneally makes it a point to visit the out-of-the-way places of the Southwest that are not usually on a tourist’s itinerary. He is much more interested in what the mining town of Leadville, Colorado has to offer as opposed to the slopes of Vail. Besides Colorado, the author and his daughter Jane travel through Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. In each of these states, Keneally takes note of what is unique or quirky. In Utah, he describes the wonder of Zion and the power that Mormonism has on the state. The Mormon prophet Brigham Young is spoken of as a towering leader. Keneally looks for the spiritual in the geology and in the inhabitants of the Southwest. He also is concerned with contradictions, and in Arizona he finds plenty of them. He ponders on how accessible the Grand Canyon has become because of the automobile; and how the cities of Phoenix and Tucson seem out of harmony with the natural landscape. New Mexico is the last stop on his journey. A number of famous personalities came to settle within this majestic state, including D. H. Lawrence and Georgia O’Keeffe.
Throughout the entire excursion, Keneally is intrigued by the Anasazi. This Native American people deserted their cliff dwellings hundreds of years ago. He looks for their spirit in the geography that remains. THE PLACE WHERE SOULS ARE BORN is a marvelous meditation on the mysterious American Southwest. Keneally speaks to all that it was and to what it has become.
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