RACHEL CALOF'S STORY: Jewish Homesteader on the Northern Plains by Rachel Calof

RACHEL CALOF'S STORY: Jewish Homesteader on the Northern Plains

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A moving memoir of an unusual Jewish immigrant experience: homesteading in North Dakota around the turn of the century. In simple but vigorous prose, Calof tells a story that unites what are generally two separate tales of the quest for a better life: the immigrant who, fleeing oppression or poverty, comes to the ""golden land"" of America, and the pioneer seeking self-sufficiency and prosperity in the American West. Calof's journey took her from the Ukraine to North Dakota in 1894, but the hopeful 18-year-old ""picture bride"" learned quickly that she had left one hostile territory for another. Despite the kindness of her husband, Abraham, Rachel faced a harsh and lonely life on the primitive frontier. She describes graphically, but in the unself-pitying terms of a survivor, the physical and spiritual hardships she faced, her small attempts at maintaining order and dignity, her sense of triumph in improvising candles to light for the Sabbath and finding wild mushrooms to add to a usually unvarying diet. Most moving is Calof's description of a brief period of madness after the birth of her first child when she succumbed to the Old World superstitions of her mother-in-law, who said that demons were after her baby (""How can I convince you, dear readers, that I saw the devil dancing on my dishes?"" she asks). A useful but dull essay by editor Rikoon (Rural Sociology/Univ. of Missouri, Columbia) examines the history of the Jewish immigrant farming experience in America. More exasperating is feminist/new western historian Elizabeth Jameson's (Univ. of New Mexico) essay exulting in Calof's memoir as evidence of the ethnic and gender diversity of frontier experiences. Forget the historical theory: This is a profile in courage, the story of how a women with ingenuity, determination, and faith in God and herself survived--and eventually prospered.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0253209862
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Indiana Univ.