Sunday, June 6, 2010

Review Ragout Two: Part 4, The Florida Keys Memoir

--Charlotte's Story by Charlotte Arpin Niedhauk ( -- This may be my favorite book that I've read this year.

In Charlotte's Story, Charlotte Arpin Niedhauk tells about the time she and her husband Russell spent living on Elliot Key and tending a lime grove in 1934 and 1935 . Elliot Key turned out to be a pretty exciting place in those two years, since the memoir starts with a series of encounters with rum-runners during Prohibition and climaxes with onslaught of the Labor Day Hurricane in 1935, one of the most powerful and destructive hurricanes in history.

The memoir starts pretty slowly as Charlotte and Russ get to Elliot Key and spend much of the first few chapters just trying to fix up the old house in which they live. But pretty soon a complicated, colorful, and intertwined web of bootleggers, smugglers, customs agents, politicians, tourists, shiftless conchs, and sponge fishermen emerges from the pages. The book is filled with all sorts of detail that brings the area and the time to life as W-- wth the help of their faithful dog Fiddler -- Russ and Charlotte make their way amid the sand flies and desperados.

This book has a leisurely pace that felt entirely appropriate for a tale of the Florida Keys. I really, really enjoyed reading it at the rate of a chapter or two every night. I suspect that I'd really enjoy reading it at the rate of a chapter or two a day on a beach or boat down in the Keys.

I have a feeling this one's going to stick with me for a long time.

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