In a bid to avoid military conscription, a farming family leaves its Prussian home in the 1880s to seek a new future in the United States in this debut historical novel.
August Mallast fought in three wars as a young man. Now, as a father of seven, he fears his eldest sons may soon be forced into military service. With trouble brewing for the German empire on multiple fronts, August and his wife, Rosina, make plans to immigrate to the U.S. The two oldest Mallast boys—Rudolph and Adolph—are the first to make the journey, crossing the Atlantic Ocean aboard the SS Oder. August, Rosina, and the rest of the children follow later on the SS Wieland. And after a brief reunion in New York, the family sets off together for the Midwest. Its destination? Michigan, a state that the clan is told has “lots of land and opportunities to pursue farming without high taxes or the need to support centuries-old hierarchies.” Shortly after their arrival, the Mallasts secure a lease on a farm near Lake St. Clair, five miles east of Mount Clemens. In subsequent years, the family logs long hours tending crops and livestock in hopes of putting down permanent roots with the purchase of their own farmland. The author hews closely to the facts when reconstructing this immigrant tale. The main characters, August and Rosina, are based on Prevost’s great-grandparents, and insider details about farmhouse dinners and favorite pastimes add to the tale’s authenticity. Readers should also delight in the historic family photos included in the book. But the author’s reluctance to stray from documented facts leaves the novel feeling unfinished. The story is driven by the records available rather than the characters. Prevost includes blow-by-blow accounts of several family land deals. But scant attention is paid to the emotional highs and lows experienced by the Mallasts as they make their way in a new land.
A fact-filled but somewhat dry look at farm life in 19th-century America.