Day 1239: Michael O’Halloran

Cover for Michael O'HalloranSome of Gene Stratton-Porter’s more well-known novels have been favorites since I was a girl and favorites of my mother before me. I’m speaking particularly of A Girl of the Limberlost, Laddie, A True Blue Story, and to a lesser extent, Freckles. In most of her novels (Laddie is an exception), she features disadvantaged young people who improve their lives through honest hard work, perseverance, and a love of nature. (Laddie wins his girl through honest hard work, perseverance, and a love of nature.) Stratton-Porter has a tendency toward melodrama that I think wasn’t unusual for popular fiction of the time, and most of the time you just go with the flow. So, I was pleased to find Michael O’Halloran, a novel from 1915 that I had never read, in a used bookstore.

Michael, or Mickey, is a young newsboy. He has been living on his own since his mother went away ill. At the beginning of the novel, he takes on another youngster, a crippled girl named Peaches, whose grandmother has just died. Both children fear the state orphanage.

Mickey attracts the attention of Douglas Bruce, a lawyer, when he has a fight with another newsboy who tries to cheat him. Bruce is struck by his insistence that things be “square,” that is, honest. He wants to be Mickey’s “big brother” and help him make his way, but Mickey is too independent. He is also familiar with another man who has a “little brother,” Mr. Minturn. Mickey and a respectable woman witnessed a nanny battering the head of Mr. Minturn’s daughter against concrete and then coaching her two brothers in a lie when the little girl became unresponsive. After she died, Mickey and the woman tried to tell Mrs. Minturn about it, but she called them liars. Then they tried Mr. Minturn, but he did nothing.

It was at that point that the novel lost me. Bruce and his fianceé, Lesley Winton, already had a project to try to reconcile the Minturns to each other. After that story and their daughter’s death, I didn’t want to read about them, and I could see where the plot was leading me. Also, Stratton-Porter can have a tendency toward sappiness, especially when she depicts children. Mickey’s story was already quite saccharine. I was willing to put up with that until the Minturns turned up. With regret, I decided not to finish this novel.

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Day 696: Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal

Cover for Little PrincesAlthough I wrote this review several weeks ago, with the earthquake in Nepal, it is more timely now. I am happy to report that the children in the orphanages mentioned in this book are all well.

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After the scandal of Three Cups of Tea, I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to read what seemed to be a similar book, but Little Princes was chosen by my book club. It’s the story of a man who volunteers for a Nepalese orphanage from fairly selfish motives but finds himself drawn in because of his affection for the children to do more.

Conor Grennan explains that he volunteered to work in the Little Princes orphanage in Nepal so that his decision to take a year off from work to travel wouldn’t look so selfish to others. This reasoning is an odd thing to admit and made me puzzle about his character. Still, once in place, he enjoyed work with the children enough to promise to come back.

It is right after he returned to Nepal that he met seven children from a remote province called Humla. Like many of the children, he learned, they were sent away by their parents from the district for their safety during civil war. What the parents didn’t know was that they were paying human traffickers, who got the children to Kathmandu and then sold them or abandoned them. Most of the children thought their parents were dead, and most of the parents had had no news of their children for years.

This was all to come out after Conor found the seven children from Humla in the custody of the wife of one of the traffickers. Just before he left the country again, he struggled to find a home that would take them in. A charity called the Umbrella Foundation, which had several orphanages, agreed. But after Conor returned home again, he learned that the trafficker had found out what was going on and removed the children before the Umbrella Foundation could fetch them.

Conor then decided to create his own foundation to work against child trafficking in Nepal. His first goal was to find those seven children. But after discovering that the mother of two of the children was alive and had not known of her children’s plight, he also decided to travel to Maoist Humla and try to find the parents of the seven children, as well as those of the children in Little Princes.

Conor does not do this all by himself. He has help from Gyan, a child welfare official; his coworker Farid, who founds an orphanage with him; the Nepalese men who go with him to Humla as guides and interpreters; and various European aid workers. Conor and the others eventually find the seven children and locate many parents in Humla, some of whom arrive to take their children back. The book also tells us how Conor met the woman he is now married to.

This book is interesting and makes you think about how much good can be done in poor countries with a small amount of money. The efforts of Grennan’s foundation and its results seem to be legitimate and worthy. What wasn’t entirely clear was how closely Grennan remains involved in the work now that he lives in Connecticut with his wife and child.

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