While coming-to-America stories tend to deal with permanent immigrants, this German author tells the equally valid story of an 1870s German carpenter who took his crew of workers to America to earn money to take home. This account of their preparation, their trip over, and their itinerant employment in America contains chunks of offstage German and American history, mild romance, and windows on everyday lives and views of the time--much of it in the form of conversational narratives and anecdotes told by various characters to young Luke Bienmann, who accompanies his grandfather on the trip. Grandfather, the head carpenter, has organized the journey to earn money to pay off his missing son Karl's debt; and Luke, Karl's son, goes along to search for his father, an artist by inclination who had been forced into carpentry by his father (Luke's grandfather). As it happens, Karl has left behind a trail of art work that is not hard to follow. On the ship over, Luke and his grandfather even finish carving a masthead that his father began on his way over. Toward the end, after the crew has proved itself in America, Luke traces his father to St. Louis, where Karl again skips out to avoid facing Grandfather. So Luke never does see his father, but on the ship back with some of Karl's pictures he meets a German brewery owner from St. Louis who ""discovers"" the paintings and promises to make Karl famous. This quest for the father, with its references to generational conflict, ties the episodic trip together; but it is the density of period material that gives the undramatic story its heft. Though much of this material is experienced at one remove, almost as background information on the other characters, it makes for a full picture and allows fans of historical fiction a satisfactory sense of participation.