| Review of HOUSE OF JOHANN by Emma Burns|
Huntley Happenings, Sept, 2017
When I began this blog, VILLAGE LIFE IN KREIS SAARBURG, RHINELAND, it was with the intention of organizing my research on the history and culture of German families in the 1800s and from information accumulated (and also shared in my blog) to write a historical novel about my ancestors and their lives before they emigrated to America.
"Why are you doing that? " Some people could not understand why a genealogist would want to turn genealogical facts, discovered after laborious searching and careful recording, into a novel; a piece of fiction. They seemed to believe that fictional touches to the genealogical facts somehow changed the facts. But my intention was always to makes sure that did not happened.
When given a choice, I have always preferred to learn history by reading a well-researched historical novel rather than a history or biography. A historical novel will imprint a previously unknown place and time on my memory by giving life to the people who took part in those historical events, especially their very human reactions to the conditions of the time and place. I wanted to learn even more about the events that brought joy or difficulty to the characters that I had come to think of not as names on someone's family tree but as real people I cared about. For instance, after reading "THE CYPRESSES BELIEVE IN GOD," and meeting brothers Ignacio and Cesar and their sister Pilar and aching with them and their whole family as they found themselves divided by loyalty to many groups; the conservative Catholic Church, the socialistic Republicans, anarchists members of the Falange, and Catalonian separatists, they began to turn away from each other and take different sides. After I finished that historical novel, I read all I could find about the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to1939 to help me fully understand a complicated situation that still causes discord now.
Naturally I set out to find a good historical novel about rural Germany before my ancestors immigrated to America ) from 1826 to 1872. The histories or biographies could wait. I wanted to get to know my ancestors as real people and see the views they saw through their windows.
My search for a novel about life in 19th century Germany was a failure because there weren’t any such novels in English. There weren't any non-fiction books on the culture of that time either, not even in German or at least none that I could locate in libraries, bookstores or on line. But there were some almost unknown local histories and the wonderful stories of Maria Croon who lived in the Rhineland in the early parts of the 20th century that gave me a lot of what I needed to know.
I took the advice of the brilliant author Toni Morrison who has said, “If there is a book you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Since the bookshelves in libraries and bookstores in America and Germany could not give me what I wanted to read - a novel about the generation that decided to emigrate to America - there was still one option open to me: to research and write "HOUSE OF JOHANN" and perhaps the continuation of their story in a "Yesterday's Rhineland" series.
I decided to use my 2nd great grandmother Magdalena, her parents, siblings and her future husband as my characters, since Magdalena and her husband Johann were immigrant ancestors. I included parts of family stories about them. Every date and place, including field, forest and stream names, are accurate enough to be safely taken from my novel to fill out family group sheets.
We all have had relatives who slowly backed away when Aunt Emma began to explain how her husband Norbert was related to great Aunt Anna who married the son of Hans Fischer, a double cousin of Peter Fischer. However everyone would listen and laugh at the story about the time Aunt Kate climbed up on the teacher's desk and turned the hands of the classroom clock ahead when the teacher went outside to have a drink from his flask. She and her classmates left the one-room schoolhouse an hour early that day. I used family stories like that one in the "HOUSE OF JOHANN" and also made up some new ones.
My favorite step in writing the novel was to let my imagination tell me how all of those ancestors felt as they spoke, worked, played and dreamed moving through the days, months and years between 1827 and 1845. It changed none of the genealogical or historic facts, but like an unverified family story, added something anyone could read with pleasure, as did a reviewer, Emma Burns. Her non-genealogist reaction to the book are given in the picture of her review at the beginning of this post. I know from that book review of "HOUSE OF JOHANN" that the story convinced a person who regularly reviews all kinds of books that a historical novel about ancestors can be a page turner. She appreciated my novel just for the pleasure of the story.
NOTE: Since the picture I took of the review of HOUSE OF JOHANN by Emma Burns in the weekly newspaper, "HUNTLEY HAPPENINGS, is somewhat difficult to read, here is a typed copy:
"House of Johann" is the story of the struggles of a rural German farm family in the 1800s. This newly released book is available on Amazon.