When I go on holiday I see a lot of people around the pool reading ‘family sagas’, usually a historical setting, based on one or two families, with characters that lock you in. That’s what the ‘Last Hundred Years’ trilogy by Jane Smiley is like. In the first book, Some Luck, I studied the family tree at the front. It started with the two key figures, Walter and Rosanna Langdon. The names in the future generations, stretching to the bottom of the page meant nothing. I was interested in Walter and Rosanna’s story. In Golden Age, the final instalment, I became locked into the story of those names at the bottom of the family tree, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the Langdons.
The story opens with an arrival, a newcomer to the family introducing himself. No-one can see forsee at that time what role will be played by Charlie Wickett and how his appearance reverberates through the Langdon generations. The story is a fascinating journey through American history including Richie becoming a congressman, his twin brother Michael, the Machiavellian one of the family, makes his fortune and loses it again on Wall Street. Walter’s great-grandson Guthrie fights in Iraq and comes home damaged. Guthrie’s sister Felicity studies environmental science and worries for the fate of the family farm, managed by her father Jesse. Jesse feels threatened by the huge agricultural conglomerates buying up his neighbours, by the development of technology which fails to counter the negative effects of soil erosion.
Throughout this trilogy, I read with a knowledge of world events and how they might possibly cross the paths of the Langdon family. This added to my curiosity. Smiley finishes the story in 2019 with a few guesses at what history has in store for us. I was sad to finish this book. This is a trilogy to read and re-read, and it will stand the test of time.
‘Golden Age’ by Jane Smiley, LastHundredYears#3 [UK: Mantle] Buy at Amazon
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