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BOOK CLUB BEAT with Sherry Hemingway AUTHOR KAREN KONDAZIAN meets with Morgan Hill book clubs that included (l. to r.) Linda Withrow, Laura Lundy, Kondazian, Judy Profeta, Jennifer Tate and Jan Hageman. Members of the EAGLE RIDGE BOOK CLUB #1 in Gilroy gave The Whip a thumbs up. The Club has been together for 10 years. They are (l. to r.) Jan Peat, Carolyn Hyde, Kathy Blaschke, Marvel Liberati, Eva Hays, Donna Weigelt, Linda Shimkus, Ruth Koteles and Fran Jones. The Whip by Karen Kondazian Summary by Laura Lundy & Sherry Hemingway Rating: Women are seldom attracted to the Western genre of fiction. A remarkable exception is “The Whip” by Karen Kondazian, a book widely read and enthusiastically recommended by local book clubs. Certainly a part of the fascination is that the lead character is based upon a real-life son/daughter (the plot) in this region. Charlotte “Charley” Parkhurst (1812-1879), whose grave is in Watsonville, was Wells Fargo’s most legendary “Whip” (stagecoach driver) during the Gold Rush era. It was Charley’s death that, with the subsequent discovery that Charley was really a woman, altered his legend. His stagecoach exploits had long been documented in the New York Times and other press, but this new revelation rocked the nation’s press in 1880. Most of the back story never came out, and there was only speculation around the autopsy that determined that Charley had once given birth. SHERRY HEMINGWAY spent her childhood after lights out with a book and flashlight under the covers. With degrees from Kent State University and Harvard University, her lifelong career was in journalism and public rela- tions. Her hobbies are travel in (very) remote countries, volunteering, and two book clubs. 70 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN Kondazian wove her imagination around the facts of Charley’s story to build an intricate, plausible work of historical fiction. The story serves to explain why a number of women in the Old West secretly gave up their gender identity for survival. “Women had three options in that era: to be a wife, a teacher or a prostitute,” Kondazian told two Morgan Hill book clubs that recently met with her in Carmel. Anything else could mean starvation for unmarried women. Kondazian’s novel traces the life of little Charlotte Parkhust, who was banished to live in the stable of her Rhode Island orphanage. A kindly black caretaker became her surrogate father and taught the girl her uncommon skill at handling teams of horses. Charlotte’s adult life brings love, marriage, motherhood – and unspeakable tragedy. She heads West in the uncomfortable disguise of a man, to pursue revenge and work. In California, she finds ever so much more, including a love affair that once inspired her to shed her buckskins for a futile tussle with a corset. Through the twists and turns of an absorbing plot line, the read- er comes to comprehend the complex, conflicted “Charley” who in real life was known for his cussing, spitting and gambling. He was also courteous to all women and an advocate for racial equality. Ironically, Charley was the first woman to vote in America (as a man).  JULY / AUGUST 2015