The Summer of the Bear

The suspicious death of a high-ranking British diplomat creates whispers of treason and spies; everyone seems to have lost faith in Nicky Fleming except his young son in Bella Pollen’s Cold War mystery – The Summer of the Bear.

After his untimely death, Nicky’s family flees to a remote Scottish island in the Hebrides for the safety of old family surroundings and seclusion from the harsh innuendo of the diplomatic gossips.  Letty, Nicky’s wife is tortured by his incriminating death-bed letter; Georgie, his seventeen year old daughter harbors a secret uncovered when she accompanied her father to East Berlin; Alba, fourteen, is angry at the world and her father for deserting them.  Only eight year old Jamie believes his father will keep his promise and come back to tell his family the truth.

As the family copes with their grief – each in their own way – a bear that has escaped from a one-man circus act appears intermittently in the action.  Pollen assigns chapters to the thoughts of each: Letty, Georgie, Alba, Jamie – and the bear.  Jamie believes the bear is his father in a new form, and Pollen allows the bear’s thoughts, its interest in the family, and its protective instincts toward the children to make the connection a possibility.

Place is important to the story – from the watchful paranoia at the Wall dividing Berlin to the proper stiffness of the British diplomatic corps in West Berlin, to finally, the wild Outer Hebrides.  Pollen spent her childhood summers in the Scottish Highlands and her descriptions of the raw beauty of the cliffs, the birds, and the sea places you there in that magical yet forbidding place.

I was caught up in the intrigue; was Nicky’s death murder, suicide, accident?  Did he betray his family and country?  Was he a double agent?  Pollen maintains the suspense while demonstrating how differently each character deals with the grief and uncertainty as well as with each other.   Although the dramatic ending is neatly tied with the imagination and loyalty of the young boy, my satisfaction came with the possibility – the belief – that the bear really was the savior.   More than a mystery or an examination of family relationships and loyalties, The Summer of the Bear is a sweet comfort I enjoyed.

The Power of a Poem

Where do you go to escape? to revitalize your brain?  Has something you read ever inspired you to find a place described in the lines?

In his article for the New York Times –  ‘Intimate Exile,’ From Stanza to Stone – Jeff Gordinier writes about traveling to Luing (pronounced “ling”) – an obscure Scottish island in the Hebrides that he found in a poem.   The poet, Don Paterson, promises that Luing is a place to be renewed; the island’s welcome sign greets with “a place to think…a place to be.”  Luing is isolated and beautiful – unknown to tourists, and without the amenities that travelers may expect in a more popular retreat; not many places like that still exist, and those that do, demur from being written about – to escape discovery.

The search for peace within the solitude of nature is not new.  Thoreau’s Walden Pond promised renewal.  Inspired by those words, I once hiked in the woods alone, at first fearing that I would not find my way out, until I slid into the comfort of knowing that no one could find me for the moment. Reading tales of Guernsey (The Soldier’s Wife; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society) have piqued my interest in visiting those hills and coasts.

What have you read that’s led you to points unknown – or, at least, lured you into thinking about going?

Read Dan Paterson’s poem “Luing” – here