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.
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.
Hoffnungstal Thownship 131 N., Range
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.
by Edna Boardman
Why I Never Called Death the River
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