"Dawn" by Eleanor H. Porter
This story, published in 1919 and set in the years before and during WWI, is not only well written and of just the right length to keep you interested. It was also an especially poignant read for me, as you will soon understand.
After he has lost his wife and two little boys to (a never specified) illness, Daniel Burton is left to raise his son Keith alone, with the help of one faithful servant who does all their cooking, cleaning and washing. Mr. Burton is an artist - he paints pictures, but they do not sell well, and so the small family lives in their big old house in a state of noble poverty and shabbiness. Mr. Burton loves his son very much and has high hopes that one day the boy will rise above their current precarious state, becoming a great artist and achieving all that his father and his two dead brothers could never do.
In his early teens, Keith's eyes deteriorate to the point of blindness. A long, hard struggle (involving money and pride) follows; several operations and months of training and learning for Keith mean he is away from home for years.
When he comes back, he is a young man, and his life - and that of his father - has changed forever.
The faithful maid, Susan, plays an important role - maybe the most important of all -, as do the neighbours' son who is more or less Keith's age, and Dorothy, a girl Keith has known since she was wearing pigtails.
Money is crucial, but even more so are faith (in one's own abilities as well as in God), trust, friendship, love and humour. The impending - and then ongoing - war is a backdrop without which a lot of what happens in the story would not be happening.
Characters and places are well described, although sometimes conversations run a little long when it would not be strictly necessary.
I won't tell you anymore of the book, because I would really like you to read it for yourself.
Now, what made it such a poignant read for me? You see (!), from the beginning of this year, my left eye has gone from bad to worse. My eyes have always been "bad"; I had my first specs at the age of 7 and am rather helpless without them. But the development with my left eye means I am probably going to need surgery next year; I have regular appointments with my doctor (which I dread - not the doctor, who is a very nice lady, but the examinations).
The way Keith took a long time to realise it was his eyes that were the problem, not something else (like fog that did not seem to shift for days, or a badly printed paper), reminded me very much of how I thought for months it was my specs that were smudged, or I simply had something in my eye, or was tired from being at the computer for too many hours, and so on.
Now, I do not expect to go blind anytime soon, but I think you understand why Keith's story spoke to me more than it would have done otherwise.
I did not know the author until I read "Pollyanna" a while ago. Eleanor Emily Hodgman Porter lived from 1868 to 1920. She was trained as a singer, attending the New England Conservatory for several years. In 1892 she married and relocated to Massachusetts, where she began writing and publishing short stories and novels. While researching for this review, I found that she also wrote a novel "Keith's Dark Tower". I wonder whether it is a sequel to "Dawn"; if yes, I definitely want to read it.
(Of course I found this book for free on Amazon's kindle store.)