December 6, 2013

Book: The Eagle and The Raven by James Michener

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:37 am

imageFor Michener, this is a very short book. I did not think he was capable of writing short ones!

But all becomes clear in the introduction, which in itself is interesting. Originally, this story was supposed to be part of another of his regular books (I think it was The Caribbean). He had to cut these out since the other book was too long already and this was a stand alone piece that did not diminish the original story for its removal. When the publishers suggested that the cut out material be expanded a bit and made into its own book, he agreed, and the result of that work is this book. The only thing that was a little bit jarring in the introduction is James Michener’s tone of patting himself in the back for doing great work, generally speaking. True, he does, and is outstanding both in his research and narration, but I have never heard before how publishers think he is great and how his books are such a success and so the tone is very different from the author’s usual style.

Interestingly, there is a book called The Eagle and the Raven by Pauline Gedge, but that is a very different story altogether. Now, on to the story of this book.

The Raven is a man Sam Houston, who deals with the Indians, lived with them, and is so absorbed in their customs that he annoyed the superior officer even though he got results in talks with them. He earned the enmity of the secretary of war John C Calhoun and friendship of General Andrew Jackson and was lifelong foe of Calhoun in politics always.

The Eagle is a Spanish man Santa Anna,  who learnt ruthlessness in the hands of a great warrior from Spain called General Arredondo and treated rebellion as something to be ruthlessly squashed and was not squeamish with burning down whole villages if he suspected that one or two there housed known agitators.

He does not hesitate to join the rebels, support “Emperor” Iturbide, and join the Republican side and see the “emperor” slain, later. Then he becomes ‘a shining beacon for democracy, liberal views, and state emancipation’! A political chameleon, who will change sides depending not on ideology but which side is on the ascendancy at any particular moment.


He walked in and out of presidency 11 times at whim, supporting emperors, turning against them, supporting democracy, turning against that system, and so on.

When he lost his leg, he had it buried with state honours of a national hero – and this,  many years after he lost it in a battle. Was sent in disgrace to exile and died in penury, an old man, with a remarkably loyal younger wife.


Earlier, the two meet (as destined to, which is the main crux of the story) in a battle in Texas where Sam not only defeats but also captures Santa Anna. He became very famous after the victory and and released him later. He then rose rapidly in politics and  became a president of Texas. After Texas became part of USA, he became a senator and, later, its governor.


Exiled himself when Texas chose the Confederacy and lived quietly with his second wife.


Not bad. The style of our man Michener is all there. The narrative excellence is there. Just the volume is missing. A good story.


I will award this 6/10


–          – Krishna


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