By: Marie Benedict
Reviewed by: Georgia Rindler
Andrew Carnegie was a ruthless industrialist who amassed a fortune in the late 1800’s. His dealings in the steel industry along with investments in railroads, railroad sleeping cars, bridges, and oil derricks made him the richest man in the world. As a boy, he emigrated from Scotland to the United States with his family. Settling in Pittsburg, Andrew had no qualms in doing whatever it took to get what he wanted. He was a shrewd businessman who eventually gave away almost ninety percent of his wealth. What turned this callous entrepreneur into the world's first true philanthropist?
Carnegie’s Maid is fiction, but Marie Benedict weaves a story of how the transformation could have occurred.
Clara Kelley was a young Irish immigrant who had the good fortune of getting an assignment as a lady’s maid to Andrew’s mother, Margaret Carnegie. Clara’s family was losing the farm in Ireland and she was put on a ship to America. The potato famine was over, but poverty was not. Whatever money she could earn would be sent back home. Their future depended on her. She became adept in her services to her mistress but was hiding a secret. Revealing it could jeopardize her job, so she was constantly cautious in the household.
The young Mr. Carnegie took a liking to Miss Kelley. He saw something in her beyond a servant. In their conversations he discovered she was educated, well read, and had a good mind for business. He shared his struggle how, as a poor immigrant, he did diligent research and educated himself on the ways of American business.
This was available to him at a private library accessible only to working boys of Pittsburgh. He maintained that the library had a tremendous impact on his life and his success. Clara challenged him with scenarios different from what he was accustomed.
Although many had come to America with nothing, Andrew had opportunities that Clara’s cousins in Slab Town did not. Theirs was a house made from salvaged wood and scrap metal. Jobs in the steel mills were dangerous and workers came home filled with soot, inside and out. This would have been Clara’s life in America, had fate not stepped in. The relationship between Andrew and Clara developed into more than that of employer and employee.
Benedict mixes fictional characters with historical figures to give the reader a glimpse into life in the late 19th century, for both the rich and the poor.
Andrew Carnegie’s real life generosity funded libraries, concert halls, a private research university, and a multitude of charitable organizations. Carnegie’s Maid envisions a life
that could have been, with cause for a dramatic alteration in a wealthy man’s attitude.
Marie Benedict’s novel can be found in the fiction section of the library; FIC BEN.
The Cuban Affair
By: Nelson DeMille
Reviewed by: Georgia Rindler
The Cuban Affair is set in 2015, just after travel restrictions to the island were removed and the process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States began.
Daniel Graham MacCormick is thirty-five years old, lives in Key West, Florida, and owns a forty-two-foot charter fishing boat. The Maine is actually owned by the bank. Four years ago Mac, as he is known, coughed up his Army separation pay, wiped out his savings and signed a quarter-million- dollar loan to buy the boat. Business is okay, but with the recent Cuban thaw, tourists are becoming more interested in visiting the little country which was off limits for so many years. The Key West Chamber of Commerce came up with a slogan, “Two nations, one vacation”, but that wasn’t happening yet. So when he’s approached by Carlos Macia, an attorney from Miami, with a two-million-dollar deal, he’s willing to listen.
Carlos is heavily involved with anti-Castro groups and wants to charter The Maine for a fishing tournament; the Pescando Por la Paz. The ten-day event, translated to Fishing for Peace, is authorized by both the United States and Cuban governments. Payment for fishing is $30,000. The two million dollars covers some additional details that involve a job in Cuba. Mac is curious and agrees to meet with Sara Ortega and Eduardo Valazquez, Carlos’s clients who are behind the deal.
Eduardo is a Cuban exile whose father was a landowner before Castro took power. His father and older brother were arrested and shot by a firing squad. He, along with his mother and sister, were forced to work in the fields they once owned. When they both died of illness and overwork he escaped, was rescued by the US Coast Guard, and brought to Key West. He is committed to getting justice for the many who suffered.
Sara’s grandfather worked for an American bank in Havana. He saw the writing on the wall and hid 60 million dollars in American currency along with a cache of gold, jewelry, and documents in a cave before Castro took over. The intention was to transfer the assets out of Cuba, but he was arrested before that happened. With the help of his bank, he escaped to Miami and kept records of what was to be distributed later.
Sara plans to enter Cuba, retrieve the items from the cave and bring them back to Key West aboard The Maine. She fears with the improved relations, the assets could become part of negotiations between the two governments and the true owners will receive nothing. This is where Mac’s role in the plan comes in.
DeMille visited Cuba in late 2015, so it is reasonable to believe the elements in the story about the country are accurate. The novel is fiction, but I found The Cuban Affair to be extremely informative. It opened my eyes to actual occurrences during and after the revolution of the late 1950s. The political situation seems far from resolved, with many still living in frightful conditions.
The Cuban Affair can be found in the library; FIC DEM.