Six Degrees of Separation from Wintering to Death of a Red Heroine

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Next month (July 2, 2022), we’ll start with Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times by Katherine May.

I haven’t read this book. According to Amazon ‘Wintering’ is a poignant and comforting meditation on the fallow periods of life, times when we must retreat to care for and repair ourselves. Katherine May thoughtfully shows us how to come through these times with the wisdom of knowing that, like the seasons, our winters and summers are the ebb and flow of life.

The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris a book I read many years ago, came into my mind as I wondered where to start my chain. It links to Wintering in that it is a quiet, meditative book. It is about the time she spent among the Benedictine monks, on two extended residencies at St John’s Abbey in Minnesota. The Cloister Walk demonstrates, from the rare perspective of someone who is both an insider and outsider, how immersion in the cloistered world — its liturgy, its ritual, its sense of community — can impart meaning to everyday events and deepen our secular lives.

A different type of walk is the subject of A Time of Gifts in which Patrick Leigh Fermor describes his travels on foot in 1933 from the Hook of Holland through Germany, to Austria, Slovakia and Hungary, on his way to Constantinople. In a way his journey was a gilded experience as he had introductions to people in different places – people who gave him a bed for the night, or longer stays. There were also people who didn’t know him who welcomed him into their homes as a guest – as the title says it was a time of gifts. It was also the period when Hitler came to power in Germany.

My next link is rather a stretch – ‘march‘ is another word for ‘walk‘ but in the title of my next link, March: a love story during the time of war by Geraldine Brooks it is the name of John March, the father of the four March girls, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy in in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. This novel is about his life whilst he was away at war during the American Civil War when he was an abolitionist and chaplain in the Union Army. During this time, John March wrote letters to his family, but he withheld the true extent of the brutality and injustices he witnessed on and off the battlefields.

My fourth link is a double biography of Louisa May Alcott and Bronson Alcott, Eden’s Outcasts: the Story of Lousia May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson, a book that clearly reveals the relationship between them. Bronson Alcott was a complicated person who appeared to have mellowed as he grew older. Louisa, well known and loved for her children’s books never achieved her ambition to write serious books for mature readers, enduring debilitating illness in her later years.

From a double biography the next link is to a triple biography: Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang, about her grandmother, her mother and herself, telling of their lives in China up to and during the years of the violent Cultural Revolution from 1966 until Mao Zedong’s death in 1976. Her family suffered atrociously, her father and grandmother both dying painful deaths and both her mother and father were imprisoned and tortured.

Staying in China my final link is Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong, his first book featuring Chief Inspector Chen. It won the Anthony Award for Best First Crime Novel in 2001. Set in Shanghai in 1990 Chen investigates the death of a prominent Communist Party member. This is as much historical fiction as it is crime fiction. But there is also so much in it about China, its culture and its history before 1990 – the Communist regime and then the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s – as well as the changes brought about in the 1990s after the massacre of Tiananmen Square. 

My chain this month has a variety of books linked in different ways – either by the subject of the books or by the variations on the meaning of words. Beginning with two books of nonfiction, it then touches on historical fiction, before returning to two more books of nonfiction and ending with crime fiction, whilst travelling through a number of different countries.

Next month, on August 6 2022, the chain begins with the winner of the 2022 Women’s PrizeThe Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki.

29 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation from Wintering to Death of a Red Heroine

  1. What a chain! Although without a faith myself, the Norris really piques my interest. A Time of Gifts and March I already know, but the Matteson looks interesting. And a Chinese crime novel would be a first for me – so onto the list it goes!

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    1. Thanks, Margaret – I found the Matteson book a bit hard going about Bronson, but it was very interesting and the Chinese crime fiction was fascinating. I read The Cloister Walk many years ago, wondering why a woman was spending time in a monastery – not what I would have been comfortable doing then – or now. My beliefs have changed over time.

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      1. I tried to add a comment on your post – but it came up as an error! This is what I wanted to say: I really enjoyed reading your chain. I never made it to the end of “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller”, although I loved the beginning. Maybe I should try it again. I’ve read some of Victoria Hislop’s books, but not that one – like Helen I still haven’t read The Island. As you know we both finished with a book with the word ‘red’ in the title – amazing that both our books were set in China!


        1. Weirdly enough, I had that same problem on Margaret21s site (and she also does WordPress as you). They asked me to log in and when I did that they went “Sorry, you must be logged in to comment.” But your comment here encourages me to put my answer on this site. It’s a shame but what can we do. The internet doesn’t always work perfectly.

          I hope you will enjoy “The Island”, it was my first book by Victoria Hislop and I have read all her subsequent ones since. Did you know that she received honorary citizenship from the Greeks?


          1. I’m a bit confused right now. Are you the same as Margaret21. Because I had kept my answer to her and it’s the following:

            Great list, Margaret. And how interesting that you included this in your first ever contribution. Sounds like fun.

            My Six Degrees of Separation took me around the world from Iceland to Italy, Greece, the USA, Argentina, Turkey and ended in China with Red Sorghum by Yan Mo.

            From your list, I have read Half of a Yellow Sun which is a very important book and a brilliant read.


          2. Marianne, now I’m confused too. I am not Margaret21. I think the problem may be that both Margaret21 and I are on WordPress and you’re on Blogger.


          3. I totally understand, Margaret. And I’m sorry. Yes, you and Margaret21 are on WordPress and I’m on Blogger. But I could post on your site and not on M21s whereas M21 could post on mine but not you. Totally weird and not to be helped, I guess. Hope it works better the next time.

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  2. What an interesting chain, Margaret, and with such great entries! I also like the clever way you link the entries, as in when you use different meanings for the word ‘march.’ Well done! And you’ve piqued my interest in the Geraldine Brooks novel. I’ve always liked the Alcott books, and had neve thought of what it might have been like for Mr. March. Fascinating!

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    1. I read the Alcott books many times growing up – Jo was my favourite and I did wonder where Mr March was, knowing nothing then about the American Civil War!

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    1. They’re very good – I also enjoyed his second Chen book – A Loyal Character Dancer. There are now 10 books in the series – I’ll have to read some more of them …

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  3. Your Walk to March link was very cheeky Margaret but it made me laugh.

    I was also amused that a commenter on my blog had that Kathleen Norris memoir in his chain too.

    Finally I like that I’ve read or at least heard of many in your chain. The one I haven’t read that I’d be most interested in reading is the Fermoor.

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    1. I’m happy that my March link made you laugh! Strange how books I read many years ago just suddenly come to mind – The Cloister Walk obviously made an impression on me. It was a library book so I don’t have a copy at hand to refresh my memory of its details.

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