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Why I Never Called Death the River, and Other Voices from the Valley of Hope: A Prairie Album

By Ronald J. Vossler, cover illustration by Andrea Trenbeath, Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo, North Dakota, 120 pages, 2003, softcover


Zion German Church of the Prairie

The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection is pleased to announce the publication of a new work of fiction, Why I Never Called Death the River, and Other Voices from the Valley of Hope: A Prairie Album, by Ronald J. Vossler, a native of Wishek, North Dakota, with cover illustration by Andrea Trenbeath, a free-lance artist from Grand Forks, North Dakota.

This volume of fiction is a well-crafted literary triumph by a native son which will find a good readership in this region and beyond. As the author indicates in his "Introduction," there are, in addition to several other documents, fifty two separate fictional "voices" in this book: members of a single congregation, whose church, Zion: German Church of the Prairies, is located in the center of an isolated North Dakota township---a mythical thirty-six square mile area that, despite being completely flat, is called The Valley of Hope.

In this book, subtitled "A Prairie Album," the voices of the rural inhabitants, overlapping and interconnected, comment upon the troubles and triumphs, the foibles and flaws and gossip of their own lives, as well as of other families. The author points out that part of his intent in writing the book was "...to have each voice taking up where the other left off...to create a kind of rural chorus, a songfest."

The song is not always a joyful one, though the varied voices "reminiscent of several similarly revelatory midwestern books as Spoon River Anthology, and Winesburg, Ohio" have an eventual focus of redemption. Despite these apparent influences, however, this story remains a rural one, a distinctly American one, as it deals with the aftermath of immigration, with various characters drawn and imagined from the lore and history of the Germans from Russia, North Dakota's most numerous ethnic group.

Hoffnungstal Thownship 131 N., Range 73 W.
Vossler's book is a powerful rendering of the basic theme of immigration and adaptation to a new land. Many of the individual stories told have a ring of truth to them, and the reader often feels as if he is overhearing --- at a family reunion say --- private stories revealing what outsiders rarely hear from prairie folk.

As the author clearly indicates, his intent was not to be historically authentic; and he has included at least several characters atypical of this ethnic group for dramatic effect. Individual voices cover the range of emotions, from poetic and poignant, to humorous and angry. An entire cast of rural characters inhabit this book, some odd, some lovable, some less so, but all connected, one way or another, by blood and marriage, guilt and love, hope and cynicism.

This book reflects an imaginative rendering of the rough, bustling, religious, and sometimes brutal life that must have once existed on farms of early Dakota. To this reviewer's knowledge, Vossler is the first author to mine the settlement-era strata of a literary landscape west of the Red River Valley, and the first to bring to the page the imagined life of a hitherto submerged group of people who live in that area. This book, whose style is at times richly poetic, is destined to become a classic of regional literature.

Related Articles:

Review by Edna Boardman


Why I Never Called Death the River

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North Dakota State University Libraries
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
Libraries
NDSU Dept #2080
PO Box 6050
Fargo, ND 58108-6050
Tel: 701-231-8416
Fax: 701-231-6128
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Director: Michael M. Miller
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