Up the Hill to Home
Jennifer Bort Yacovissi
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Buy *Up the Hill to Home* by Jennifer Bort Yacovissionline

Up the Hill to Home
Jennifer Bort Yacovissi
Apprentice House
488 pages
April 2015
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Over the course of nine pregnancies, Lillie develops her own little rituals in preparing for a new baby’s arrival into the family. One of the first things she does is to have Ferd go up into the attic and bring down her memory box. In fact, she sometimes breaks the happy news to him by smiling and simply saying, ‘It’s time to get the box again.’ For his part, Ferd responds with some combination of a smile or laugh, a kiss, and a sweeping, feet-off-the-floor embrace before he heads to the attic.
In this fictional account of a family, based on the lives of real folk, author and reviewer for Washington Independent Review of Books Jennifer Bort Yacovissi has taken events, memories, and family lore surrounding her parents and grandparents and fashioned a multi-generational patchwork quilt—something like a wedding ring pattern, with interlinking circles. The chapters include diary entries, old love letters, and the up-to-the-minute happenings that swirl around a very busy, at times chaotic household in crisis.

At the center is Lille Voith, whose accidental fall on a Passion Sunday morning in April 1933 begins the book. The story ends one week later, on Palm Sunday. In between are recollections that span American events from the Civil War to the beginning years of the Great Depression on a little farmstead originally located on the outskirts of Washington, DC. The memories come not only from Lillie, who is pregnant with her tenth child and now suddenly bedridden, but also from Ferd, her devoted husband, and Charley and Emma, her aging parents. While Lillie languishes in her room, struggling to recuperate, her parents, her spouse, and her nine children are plunged into new routines and chores they never expected to take on.

We learn of the family’s determination to balance traditional farm life with the increasing demands for cash and the encroachment of the city. In recollection we see Confederate Jubal Early’s march into Washington and suffer the distress of Lillie's grandmother Mary during long days of fear and gunfire. Through the letters of her Grandfather Miller, an army doctor, Lillie comes to understand war in all its gore, its scarce glory.

Yacovissi has planned her book carefully, and the result is nothing short of remarkable. We are gently lulled into thinking it is something rather simple, then watch it expand and become more nuanced until the ending gradually slides into focus. The author deftly cultivates our interest in the historical background while keeping our sentiments trained on her very human cast of characters.

The book is peppered with archaic language and folksy idioms that keep us in the timeframe, contributing nostalgia without saccharine. The letters are charmingly redolent of their era; the observations of Charley and Ferd, both trying to manage nine young’uns while fostering constant concern on the ailing mother, are plausible and often amusing. And bridging all, Lillie’s thoughts, her memories and her fading sense of reality, are convincing and affecting.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2015

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