By Harmony Verna
As in her previous historical novel, Daughter of Australia, the landscape becomes a character in Harmony Verna’s Beneath the Apple Leaves.
This time the landscape is as it was in the early twentieth century in the Eastern United States, and in most of the novel, in farmland around Pittsburgh.
Harmony Verna’s book tells a story of Andrew Houghton, a coal-miner’s son, who believed he was destined to be a veterinarian until his father died, his mother left the country, and he was badly injured in an accident. Andrew goes to live with his young aunt Eveline and her husband, Willhelm Kiser. Misfortune follows the family as anti-German sentiment intensifies when America enters World War I.
The author displays compassion for her characters, giving them all too-human faults and complicated emotions. One of her skills is to convey her characters’ negative traits and behaviors while showing us how these coexist with the good, keeping us invested in their fates.
As Harmony Verna tells it, life was hard for simple people in the early years of last century. Her research must have been prodigious as she tells a story of physical discomfort, cold, hard labor, dreadful medical practices, domestic abuse. Yet her descriptions of the landscape are lyrical. Her characters draw strength from it, trying to make things better. Her empathy for the people who lived before us is remarkable.
For warmth of characterization, some truly gorgeous prose and hard-to- put-down action, Harmony Verna’s writing excels. A lovely book.