I love books about real people surviving some serious shit. Usually, these are historical accounts, or fiction because let’s be honest here, modern day man doesn’t have much to survive right now.
The one I just finished reading is a bit of both, fiction gleaned from many historical accounts and interviews. The gal survived a famine in her youth, a typhoid epidemic with 3 small children and no running water, and a civil war which lead to a month living on the side of a mountain in the middle of winter with only what they carried out on their backs. The book was Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Obviously, not written for the prepping crowd. It was sitting in the paperback book section of Goodwill, and at a buck, it represented a lot of entertainment for the money spent. And for this prepper, there were gems embedded in the story that made it even more interesting.
The famine – She mentions that after a wide spread crop failure, there was a famine. Her family survived the winter and spring on rice gruel flavored with dried turnips. Those turnips would have come out of the kitchen garden, which was a large contributor to the table and pantry. I wonder how they dried turnips in nineteenth century China? Hanging in strips outside? Or dried in chunks near a fire? I know how dried carrots can taste, I’m not sure dried turnips would be really tasty. But in a famine…
The Typhoid epidemic – She lives at this point in one of the typical multi-generational houses with her 3 small children and her husband’s family. There is only one water source in town, the river, which is of course spreading the typhoid. She knows enough about the spreading vectors that she’s able to maintain a really basic quarantine for a couple of months. She locks herself and her children in her room. She only comes out twice a day to boil water, filter it, and make a basic rice gruel. She didn’t want to eat any of the garden crops because she knew humanure was used to fertilize it. She doesn’t touch anyone else or anything else. Her small family survives unscathed even as the typhoid takes half the house. But can you imagine subsisting on 2 bowls a day of rice gruel? For 2 months? I tried to figure out what she could have been filtering the water with. At most I would think she had some cloth pieces made of cotton or silk.
The Mountain in Winter – This whole substory was intense. Rebels were rebelling and they got close enough to her area that whole towns emptied out with civilians heading literally for the hills to escape the fighting. This was late fall, so of course the snow started falling as soon as they made it to their tree on the mountain. Yes, they lived under a tree, with only an open fire and a few quilts, and did I mention they had to walk for 36 hours non stop to get there? They lived there for most of winter, 11 weeks in all. There weren’t any surprises, they boiled snow, hunted what game the men could find, ate the bag of rice they had carried up the mountain and got really hungry and cold. Can you imagine surviving something like that? Intense.
I love having my thinking juices stirred. I highly recommend the book, for anyone wondering about the life of a woman during Nineteenth century China. Let me spoil it for you though, 90% of her waking life is spent cooking, cleaning and sewing. I like 2 out of those 3, but I think I’d be hard pressed to survive that life. Yikes.
What about all the other readers out there? Anyone staying warm with a good book? Have you gleaned any interesting survival tips from them?
– Calamity Jane