A Parchment of Leaves

A Parchment of Leaves

by Silas House

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When Silas House made his debut with Clay's Quilt last year, it touched a nerve not just in his home state (where it quickly became a bestseller), but all across the country. Glowing reviews-from USA Today (House is letter-perfect with his first novel), to the Philadelphia Inquirer (Compelling. . . . House knows what's important and reminds us of the value of family and home, love and loyalty), to the Mobile Register (Poetic, haunting), and everywhere in between-established him as a writer to watch.

His second novel won't disappoint. Set in 1917, A PARCHMENT OF LEAVES tells the story of Vine, a beautiful Cherokee woman who marries a white man, forsaking her family and their homeland to settle in with his people and make a home in the heart of the mountains. Her mother has strange forebodings that all will not go well, and she's right. Vine is viewed as an outsider, treated with contempt by other townspeople. Add to that her brother-in-law's fixation on her, and Vine's life becomes more complicated than she could have ever imagined. In the violent turn of events that ensues, she learns what it means to forgive others and, most important, how to forgive herself.

As haunting as an old-time ballad, A PARCHMENT OF LEAVES is filled with the imagery, dialect, music, and thrumming life of the Kentucky mountains. For Silas House, whose great-grandmother was Cherokee, this novel is also a tribute to the family whose spirit formed him.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616202910
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 08/16/2002
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 177,527
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Silas House is the author of five novels. His book for middle-grade readers, Same Sun Here, was a finalist for the E. B. White Read-Aloud award. A frequent contributor to the New York Times and a former commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered, House is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers and is the winner of the Nautilus Award, the Appalachian Writers Association's Book of the Year, and other honors.

Read an Excerpt


Those words flew out of my mouth, as sneaky and surprising as little birds that had been waiting behind my teeth to get out. Apparently, they did the trick. I could see my announcement making a fist around his heart. I was so full of myself, so confident. One thing I knowed I could do was charm a man until he couldn’t hardly stand it.

I wanted Saul Sullivan, plain and simple. That was all there was to it. I didn’t love him—that came later—but I thought that I did. I mistook lust for love, I guess. I knowed that I could fill up some hole that he had inside of himself and hadn’t even been aware of until laying eyes on me. Saul looked to me like he needed to lay his head down in somebody’s lap and let them run their hand in a circle on his back until he was lulled off to sleep. I knowed that I was the person to do it. I had been waiting a long time for such a feeling to come to me.

That whole summer, I kept one eye on the road as I went about my chores. I throwed corn to the chickens without even watching them, bent over to pick beans and looked upside down at the road, where I might see his horse come trotting down foamy mouthed and big eyed. At first, when I caught sight of Saul heading down into Redbud Camp, I would turn back to the task at hand and make him think I hadn’t seen him coming. He’d have to stop at the gate and yell out for me. I did this just to hear him holler. I loved his full-throated cry: “Vine! Come here to me!” I loved to hear my name on his tongue. But as summer steamed on, I couldn’t bring myself to continue such games, and I’d rush out to the road as soon as I seen him coming. I’d throw down the hoe or the bucket of blackberries or whatever I was packing. I’d leave one of my little cousins that I was supposed to be tending to, would rush off the porch even though Mama had ordered me to peel potatoes. The more he come by, the harder it was to stay away from him.

Mama frowned on all of this. Every time I’d get back from being with him, she’d wear a long, dark face and not meet my eyes. “It’s not fitting,” she said. “People ought to court their own kind.”

“There ain’t no Cherokee boys to court,” I said. “They’ve left here.”

“Just the same,” Mama said, and dashed water out onto the yard. Her face was square and unmovable. “Them Irish are all drunks.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at her, even though I knew this would make her furious. “Good Lord, Mama, that’s what they say about Cherokees, too.”

Daddy made no objections. Him and Saul went hunting together and stood around in the yard kicking at the dust while they talked about guns and dogs. Saul brought him quarts of moonshine and sacks of ginseng. We were kin to everybody in Redbud Camp, and when they seen that Daddy had warmed to Saul, they started speaking to me again. Everybody looked up to Daddy, and if he approved of Saul, they felt required to do the same. My aunts Hazel and Zelda and Tressy even seemed to be taken with him. They talked about him while they hung clothes on the line, while they canned kraut in the shade, when everyone gathered to hear Daddy’s hunting tales at dusk.

“Wonder if he’s freckled all over,” Hazel whispered. She was much older than me but had been widowed at a young age, and we had always been like sisters. She laughed behind cupped hands. “You know, down there.”

“You don’t know, do you, Vine?” Tressy asked, jabbing her elbow into my ribs.

“They say the Irish are akin to horses,” Zelda said, “if you know what I mean.”

I had been around horses enough to know what this meant, so when they all collapsed in laughter, I had to join in.

I couldn’t have cared less if they loved him or if they had all hated him and met him at the bridge with snarls and shotguns. I had decided that I was going to have him.

Our courting never took us past the mouth of Redbud. Even though Daddy thought a lot of Saul, he wouldn’t allow it. Daddy had said that I was his most precious stone. “I’ll let you trail from my fingers, but not be plucked,” Daddy told me one evening when Saul came calling.

I didn’t care where we went, as long as he come to see me, but I would have liked to ride off on that fine horse with him a time or two without worrying how far we went. I thought a lot about how it would feel to just slip away, to just wrap my arms around Saul’s waist and take off. We never got to do that, though. We always went down to the confluence of Redbud Creek and the Black Banks River. There was a great big rock there, round as an unbaked biscuit. It had a crooked nose that jutted out over the water. This was our spot.

Summer was barely gone before he asked me to marry him. I remember the way the air smelled that day—like blackberries ripe and about to bust on the vines. The sky was without one stain of cloud, and there didn’t seem to be a sound besides that of his horse scratching its neck against a scaly-barked hickory and the pretty racket of the falls. We sat there where we always did, watching the creek fall into the river. The creek was so fast and loud that you couldn’t do much talking there. This wall of noise gave us the chance to sit there and study each other. I spent hours looking at the veins in his arms, the calluses on his hands. He had taken a job at the sawmill and this had made his arms firm, his hands much bigger. When we wanted to speak, we’d have to either holler or lean over to each other’s ears. It was a good courting place on this account. Any two people can set and jaw all day long, but it takes two people right for each other to set together and just be quiet. And it’s good to have to talk close to somebody’s ear. Sometimes when he did this, his hot breath would send a shudder all through me.

That day, he run his rough hand down the whole length of my hair and smoothed the ends out onto the rock behind me. I closed my eyes and savored the feeling of him touching me in such a way. I have always believed that somebody touching your head is a sign of love, and his doing so got to me so badly that I felt like crying out. It seemed better to me than if he had leaned me back onto the rock and set into kissing. I knowed exactly how cool my hair was beneath his fingers, how his big palm could have fit my head just like a cap if he had taken the notion to position it in such a way, and I closed my eyes.

The closer it got to dark, the louder the water seemed to be. The sky was red at the horizon, and the moon drifted like a white melon rind in the purple sky opposite.

“Vine?” I heard him yell.

I turned to face him. “What?”

“We ought to just get married,” he hollered.

I nodded. “Well,” I mouthed. I didn’t want to scream out my acceptance, but I sure felt like it. I turned back to the creek and was aware of my shoulders arching up in the smile that just about cut my face in half.


I stood within the shadows of the porch when Saul took Daddy out in the yard to ask for my hand. I had told Saul that it was customary to ask the mother of a Cherokee girl first, but he felt it would be a betrayal of Daddy if he did not tell him before anyone else. They were friends, after all.

Daddy leaned against the gate, his face made darker and older by the dying light. I knowed Daddy would say it was all right, but that he’d tell Saul to ask for Mama’s permission. I seen Daddy nod his head and put his finger to the touch-me-not bush that hung on the fence. All of the flowers were gone from it now, for summer was beginning to die. For some reason, I felt sick to my stomach.

Mama’s voice was hot beside my ear. “It’s been decided, then.”

“Not unless you say so.”

“What do you expect me to do? Mash out what you want so bad?” She stood there in the doorway, folding a sheet with such force that I thought the creases might never come out. She worked it into a neat square, then snapped it out onto the still air and folded it again.

“I’ll tell him to go ahead with it, but you know it ain’t what I want. It’s not right. Your daddy’s great-great-granny was killed by white men. My people bout starved to death hiding in them mountains when they moved everbody out. I can’t forgive that.”

“That was a long time ago,” I said. “Eighty years, almost.”

“Might as well been yesterday.”

“Daddy says we’re Americans now,” I said, searching for something to say.

Mama’s eyes were small and black and her skin seemed to be stretched tightly on her skull. I turned away, as I couldn’t look at her. “Tetsalagia,” Mama said. I am Cherokee. I knew this much of our old language, as Mama said it to Daddy when they got into fights about how their children ought to be raised up. “That’s his way,” she said. “Not mine.”

“Don’t do me thisaway, Mama. Your own sister married a white man.”

“And I ain’t heard tell of her since. She’s forgot everything about herself.”

“I never knowed much to begin with,” I said, more hateful than I intended. “You all act like the past is a secret.”

“Well, that’s your Daddy’s fault. Not mine.”

In the yard, Saul and Daddy stood with their hands in their pockets. I realized that their friendship was gone. They’d never go hunting together or go on with their notion of butchering a hog together this winter. Now they would only be father and son-in-law, one dodging the other. Saul would take me away from this creek, and Daddy would hold it against him, whether he intended to or not. They looked like they were searching for something else to talk about.

“You know you’ll have to leave this place,” she said, like she could read my thoughts. She whispered, as if they might hear us. “Leave Redbud Camp. All the people you’ve knowed your whole life.”

“I know it, Mama. I’m eighteen year old, though. Most girls my age has babies,” I said, but this didn’t make a bit of difference to her. She put her hand on my arm, and I turned to face her.

“I don’t want you to leave me,” she said. I knowed this had been hard for her to put into words; she was not the kind of woman who said what her heart needed to announce. I listened for tears in her voice but could hear none. She was too stubborn to cry for me, but her words just about killed me. “I’m afraid I’ll never see you again.”

“That’s foolishness,” I said. “You know I’d never let that happen.”

There was movement down on the yard, and I watched as Daddy headed up the road. I could see that he was hurt over my leaving. He was walking up on the mountain to think awhile. Most of my uncles got drunk when they were tore up, but Daddy always just went up on Redbud and listened to the wind whistle in the rocks.

Saul strode across the yard, as deliberate and broad shouldered as a man plowing a field. I eased past Mama. I didn’t want to be out there when he asked her for my hand. I didn’t want to remember the way her face would look when she agreed to it.

I lit a lamp and made the wick long so that I could see good by it. I carried the lamp through each little room, trying to memorize the house I had knowed all my life. I made a list of two or three things I wanted to take: one of the quilts Mama and her sisters had made, the cedar box my granddaddy had carved, the walnut bushel basket I had always gathered my beans in. I was homesick already and hadn’t even left. I sucked in the smell of the place, memorized the squeaks in the floor. I run my hands over Mama’s enamel dishpan, wrapped my fingers about the barrel of the shotgun Daddy kept by the door.

When I walked back into the front room, I knowed Saul would be standing there in the door. I didn’t run to him. I set the lamp down on a low table so that my face would be lost to the grayness. I didn’t want him to see the hesitation on my face. He was so happy he was breathing hard. “It’s decided,” he said.

Still I stood in the center of the room, although I knowed he wanted me to come be folded up in his big arms.

“I know we’ll have to live with your people,” I said, “so I want to marry amongst mine.”

“All right,” he said, and then he come to me and picked me up. I cried into the nape of his neck, not knowing if it was from grief or happiness, for both gave me wild stirrings in my gut.

Reading Group Guide

1. On her wedding day, Vine Sullivan says: “Family’s the only thing a person’s got in this life.” Yet, when Vine attempts to tell Saul about Aaron’s menacing behavior, she realizes what Saul’s “great fault” is: “He would always choose his family over me.” How does Vine cope with this realization throughout the course of the novel? Explore how the concept of family is developed in this story.

2. Explain why the title of Part I of the novel, “Confluence,” is an appropriate label for this section of the story.

3. By the end of Part I, Vine seems conflicted: lonely, yet at peace; happy, but restless; homesick, but able to make her own home with Saul. Vine also seems to have a more heightened sensory awareness than the other characters, always noting the smells, sights, tastes, sounds, and feelings around her. How do these character traits serve her during the story?

4. Why is Saul Sullivan such a poor communicator in person but such an articulate letter-writer?

5. How does music operate within this story? Are you familiar with the song references and lyrics? Does the banjo have symbolic meaning in the story?

6. Purple colors are often referred to in the story. What does the color purple signify for you?

7. How does nature serve as a main character in this novel? Consider references to landscapes, creeks, mountains, birds, wildflowers, trees, snakes, etc.

8. Discuss Silas House’s use of vernacular speech in this story. What words or phrases spoken by the characters are unfamiliar to you? How do the characters’ dialects affect your interpretation of the story? What do you learn about the characters and the place where they live through their speaking styles?

9. Are you familiar with the mountain traditions described in the book such as a “house raising” or a “hog killing”? What about the many folklore beliefs and rituals practiced by Esme? What are some of the traditions or rituals you learned from your family or community, and how do they compare or contrast to the practices of Appalachians at the turn of the 20th century?

10. Even though Vine would not know the modern word “feminist,” would you label her as a feminist? Why or why not? What are your personal connotations for the word “feminist” and the notion of “feminism?”

11. Vine’s friend Serena serves traditional feminine roles in the community such as midwife, caregiver, and mother, yet she is described as being rough as a man; she chain smokes and wears men’s clothes. How do these androgynous characteristics affect your perception of Serena?

12. Discuss Vine’s awareness of the rigidity of men’s and women’s roles in her time and community. For example, she notes: “Men and women never sat beside one another at the table;” “A woman had never offered to shake my hand before–it was something that only men did;” and “In a place where men had once made things so busy, now there was only women…. Sometimes it seemed like we would do just fine without any men at all.”

13. Describe the relationship Vine has with the women in her community who are not related to her: Serena, Esme, and Aidia. What is the significance of both Vine and Aidia being “outsiders?”

14. Discuss the prejudices that the characters in A Parchment of Leaves either endure or participate in. Consider: Native American vs. European American, masculine roles vs. feminine roles, townspeople vs. “creekers,” church goers vs. free thinkers, etc.

15. With which character(s) do you most closely identify? Why?

16. By the end of the novel, Vine Sullivan has a complete, complex, and conflicted cultural identity. Discuss how her heritage, region, and gender impact her self-awareness and shape her various roles as mother, wife, daughter-in-law, farmer, and community member.

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Parchment of Leaves 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Katie_H on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A beautifully told story, "A Parchment of Leaves" takes the reader to the early 1900's in the Appalachian mountains. Vine, a young Cherokee woman, is the narrator, and she tells of her romance and marriage to Saul, an Irishman who lives in a nearby settlement. Many town members discriminate against her, but those in her close circle, including her mother-in-law, Esme, accept her unconditionally. Particularly disconcerting and ominous is the fixation that Saul's younger brother, Aaron has on her. He selects a wife with an uncanny resemblance to Vine, and in one horrible night, his obsession results in tragedy that changes Vine's life forever. I was able to relate to many of the characters, since portions of my family are from the same region and grew up scorned as "half-breeds," whites mixed with Shawnee blood. I enjoyed this novel immensely, and I finished it in a couple of hours. I will definitely read more by this author.
countrylife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a beautifully written story of love and family, guilt and forgiveness. The prologue and epilogue are written in third person, while the body of the story is narrated by Vine, a Cherokee descended from a group who hid during Removal and remained in their Kentucky mountains. Now the mid-1910s, big-man in town is ousting the Redbud Camp Cherokees without so much as payment for their land, taking over their mountain to build his mansion. Saul is sent to work on clearing the building area, when he meets and falls in love with Vine.I loved this book. I¿m trying to work out why it spoke to me so. It¿s not historically significant, or deep, or fancy in any way. It is written in very simple language. ¿And then I knowed that I was fooling myself. The rains of spring would not wash away what had already been done.¿ Simple, but with such beauty and clarity. The setting, though we still see it through Vine¿s simple words, is just as lovely to my mind as it is to her eyes. You come to know her places and what she thinks of them, as if you are there, too. Her garden, the path between their home and her mother-in-law¿s home, the cooling river, her old home-place ¿ the scenery was lovingly painted. The characters were true to their time, their thoughts and motives believable. And so well described that you could see them in your mind and know how they felt. Perhaps it¿s the Cherokee in me, or the fact that I spent my youthful summers in a place very similar to the area described, or that I¿ve known and loved my share of Esmes. I don¿t know why; I just loved it!Mr. House¿s creation has a lot to like. I liked both mothers; I liked the local midwife. Not sure about the violets. Where I¿m from, violets bloom in the early spring, and then just a month or two. They wouldn¿t be there for the picking on a hot, sultry day. Maybe they grow a different kind in Kentucky; hope so, `cause I don¿t want to not like anything about this book. But I forgive him if he got that wrong, because everything else felt so right, including speaking a woman¿s voice ¿ he even got that right. If you happen on this review, please go check out the CK for quotations from Parchment of Leaves so you can read some snippets from the pen of Silas House. Then I¿m sure you¿ll want to read his book yourself. One of my top four reads this year. I loved it!
BookDivasReads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Every now and then I receive a book recommendation that completely surprises me (in a good way). A Parchment of Leaves by Silas House is one such book. I belong to a local book group that meets at the Charleston Town Center Mall on the last Wednesday of each month in the Community Room at Panera Bread Company (if you're in the Kanawha County area please join us). The story is set in eastern Kentucky during the early 1900s and centers on a young Cherokee woman and her experiences with her non-Cherokee husband and his family. Although there is racism evident against Cherokees, this is not the heart of this story. Vine is a beautiful young woman that becomes enamored with Saul Sullivan. Saul is just as entranced and in love with Vine and the two marry. Vine accompanies her husband to his family's land and leaves all that she has known behind. The life that Saul and Vine lead is not considered a hard-scrabble life, but they do have to work hard. They must build their own home, which they do with the assistance of neighbors and family. They grow most of the vegetables and must slaughter chickens and hogs for meat. Vine washes their clothes on rocks at the nearby creek and they obviously don't have indoor plumbing, running water or even electricity. Vine and Saul don't miss these things simply because they've never had them and it isn't expected. Saul works hard at the local mill and Vine works equally as hard keeping house. Eventually Vine gets pregnant and gives birth to a little girl they name Birdy. As World War I begins, Saul wants to help with the war effort and volunteers to work in the next county. This job means that he'll be gone for long periods of time. Vine gets along well with her mother-in-law and loves her new family. But she is also wary of her brother-in-law Aaron. He has never openly done anything, but he simply always seems to be underfoot and watching her, even when she's out in the woods or walking with friends. She is extremely cautious about Aaron but Saul thinks he's harmless. Aaron isn't exactly irresponsible, but he's never held down a job and seems to want to experience a hundred different jobs all at once. After some time Aaron leaves the family and is gone for months before returning with a wife - a young and pregnant wife. Aaron's marriage gives Vine hope that he's no longer attracted to her, until it is pointed out that his wife, Aidia, bears a strong resemblance to her.I could give you more details about the story, but I'll stop here. It is sufficient for me to note that this is an excellent portrayal of rural Appalachian life during the early 1900s. Mr. House has crafted a story that is captivating and utterly believable. This isn't a glossed-over, rose-colored view of rural life, all of the hassles, trials and tribulations are deftly revealed. I become so engrossed in the story that I had to finish it in one sitting, even staying up late to do so. Saul is initially the typical strong but silent man that openly loves his family. He becomes more outgoing as the story evolves but remains openly loving of his family. Vine isn't a traditional housewife and mother although she deals with all of the household chores with ease. Their marriage has its share of ups and downs, usually as a result of outside forces. The story is different and the voice of Vine is unique, such that A Parchment of Leaves had me in a hurry to collect more literary fiction by Mr. House.
LCBrooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I purchased A Parchment of Leaves on the recommendation of a local, independent book seller. I was skeptical at best: incredulous that Silas House had the audacity to think he couldeffectviely write from a woman's vantage. House proved me wrong. Not only did he effectivley convey Vine's story, but, he did so with the heart and soul of a woman. House provides enough violent detail without being gratutious or detracting. Likewise, he sprinkles in enough romance that the reader understands the love Vine and Saul share without pushing the envelope to the edge of chick lit. House ends the book at the perfect point. He left enough unanswered that I could imagine where Vine and Saul's lives were headed, but, not hungry for a sequel.
Rice4Life on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
House is so good at describing the Appalachian area. I always enjoy his down-to-earth romantic themes with a believable plot. House takes us on a trip to the early 1900s where racism existed between Indians, townies and holler people. Fantastic description of character and a respectful tribute to this era.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Secrets will tear a family apart eventually. This story shows why secrets are kept. A beautiful story fill of love and life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Silas House is a favorite.
JLdeBrux More than 1 year ago
I loved this book ,it held me from the very beginning. Silas House is a beautiful, descripted writer and I felt like I could see, hear and be in the moments he was talking about.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was recommended by a B&N employee. I went back to thank him when I finished. I have recommended it to many friends and they have all enjoyed it. A historical fiction you learn so much from about culture, dedication, hard work and heart. The characters are vividly portrayed. House plays on all your senses. You experience her world in so many ways.
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Moondance More than 1 year ago
Excellent read..... couldn't put it down.... it was full of description,
movement and character.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The writer shows his deepest emotion within the prose of this work. Vivid writing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Beautiful! He is an amazing writer. I read one of his novels and quickly grabbed up the other two and read them in a weekend!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Quite simply - this books was elegant. By far Silas House's greatest literary accomplishment.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great book and I would recommend reading it to anyone. I couldn't put it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read about 3-5 books a month...and I can honestly say this is one of the best books I have ever read. I found myself reading this book slowly because I didn't want it to end. Silas House is my new favorite author. His writing style is beautiful. Off to read Clay's Quilt next and looking forward to the March 2004 release of The Coal Tattoo.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the best book I've read in a long time. Silas House writes beautifully, and I'm even more impressed because he can write first-person from the point of view of a young woman and he's completely convincing. Interesting, well-fleshed-out characters and a good story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Simple, beautiful, and wonderful fiction. I can't wait to read his other novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was much impressed with Silas House's first book CLAY'S QUILT. With this, his second book, he has outdone himself. The characters are so well written and developed that they become "real" to the reader. You feel like you know them all personally. I absolutely loved this book and cannot wait for the third one. If you never read another, you must read this book. The storytelling is exceptional and I promise, you will not be disappointed.