I Never Called Death the River and other Voices from the Valley
of Hope: A Prairie Album
Book review by Alice Morgenstern, Munich, Germany
I find that books gain their true value for me, when I read them
a second time. Then I know that I will take them up again, and they
will accompany me in future years.
This is one of them.
This book is the story of the early settlers in the Dakota Prairies,
people of German-Russian origin who left the Ukraine in the late
19th century in search of the Land of the Free. In the history of
immigration they remained unknown for a long time, because they
were mute and didn't even speak to their children about their beginnings.
They wanted to forget.
But Ron Vossler has given them voices. His story of a fictitious
township "Valley of Hope" (Hoffnungstal) is based on truth.
There are the experiences of farming families beginning to make
a living from a barren soil in a hostile climate. 52 different voices
- old and young - from both sides of "River Death" reveal
what their lives were like. The glimpses we get from snatches of
memory form an elaborate pattern of many colors and shades. In its
simplicity the language is authentic and poetic.
There are the god-fearing, the law-abiding and the betrayers. They
tell about faith and doubt, toil and labor, little pleasures and
deep sorrows, happy hours and untimely death, and there is always
the homesickness for the land and people they left behind. But there
is also the process of their becoming American citizens. The old
generation clings to a quaint German dialect and old methods of
farming, the young have a different outlook.
That choir of voices creates the true Prairie Saga of the time
before the first World War.
As a German who has been gradually learning something about this
history, I am fascinated and moved by what I find in this small
volume. And I am convinced that it will not only be appreciated
by the old who wish to remember, but by the young who wish to know
what their sources were.
And I hope that it will be taken as a set book in high schools,
not only in Dakota, but wherever American pioneers will be remembered.
to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested
by contacting Michael