A story in 4 parts that lacks the compelling writing of his previous books.
The book was first published in 1991 (he died in 1997 at 90 years of age) although re-issued in 2015. And in some ways he perhaps considered it a summing up of what he learnt as a writer and educator in literature.
We have several passages where the characters discuss the best writers of the age, and the worst, and give their rationales. Indeed, in many sections and chapters, the voice of an erudite author comes across very strongly – it could be considered in fact a teaching tool as again sections discuss good literature elements, good editing practices, and the use of language.
And these are the points that take away from the story. The reader feels they are being lectured to about to read even – the 4th part of the book.
Michener grew up, went to university and even taught, in Pennsylvania and so one must assume that the characters and societies of the Dutch inhabitants were very familiar to him. And in these sections where he writes about the rules of their society – the whole braces/not braces issue, and the arguments between the ‘Plain Dutch’ and the ‘Fancy Dutch, and the discussions of Hex signs, you feel his knowledge of the subject matter as in his other books such as Hawaii. And these sections were where I felt I was reading Michener the Novelist as opposed to Michener the Lecturer.
Indeed the book is dedicated to the Pennsylvania Dutch students who went to school with him.
So a book that although written in 4 sections is actually a book with two voices. That of the academic lecturing on how to write and edit a good novel and which novelists to emulate, and that of the novelist telling the story of the Pennsylvania Dutch community.