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by Lucinda Heck

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-79606-643-2
Publisher: XlibrisUS

A generational family novel tells the story of one line of German settlers in Hungary over two centuries.

People know about the Germans who went west to settle in the Americas, but as Heck reminds readers in this tale, some of them actually went east. After the Banat region of Hungary comes under the control of the Austrian Empire, Empress Maria Theresa decides to sow the lands with German Catholics. Stefan and Sophie Fritz from the Black Forest answer the call for colonists, though it means they have to disguise their Lutheran faith. Stefan believes that the promise of good land abroad beats the guarantee of poverty, despite the loss of home. “They say you are putting down new roots,” writes Stefan as he leaves Germany in 1763. “But do the roots ever take hold, and are you nourished by the new growth? Or are they weeds, growing but producing nothing?” The Fritzes toil beside the other colonists, allowing their son Johann to become a skilled violinist who associates with the likes of Haydn and Beethoven. Other descendants of Stefan and Sophie participate in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 and both world wars. The fate of the family is ultimately tied to the destiny of the German community of Eastern Europe. In this series opener, Heck writes in a detailed prose that reveals what must have been a great deal of research: “Because women in the Banat were used to hard work in the fields, they were strong and mostly healthy. Some women went into labor in the fields, then cleaned up the best they could, wrapped the babies to their bodies, breastfed them, and went back to work that day or the next.” The format is epistolary, and because of this (and its compressed time frame—almost 200 years in just over 200 pages), there is a rushed, overly expositional quality to both the dialogue and the narration. As a result, the story is not quite as immersive as it might have been. That said, the book is noteworthy for its dramatization of a vanished chapter in German and European history.

An engaging but condensed fictional account of Germans in Eastern Europe.