Book review by Edna Boardman, Bismarck, North Dakota
Aman, Ray. Dakota Sky. Trafford Publishing, 2005.
I’m something of a fan of personal reminiscence books. I
come in at the low end of the publishing scene, almost always printed
at the expense of and promoted and sold by the author. Yet, when
comes to showing what it was like to live at the ground level of
age, they often shine like little jewels. This is one of those books.
After a quick kiss to German Russian history, Aman, in a novelized
account, traces the lives of American-born Carl and Gertrude Schultz
and their children Joe and Cathy (named, if you look back far enough,
for the Russian Empress herself) through the 1930s, the 1940s, and
1950s, ending the book near now. They live(d) in South Dakota, on
farm "six miles from Hosmer," with Hillsview, Bowdle,
County, and Strasburg, North Dakota in their frame of reference.
Carl, the main character, takes responsibility for the well-being
his family during the incredibly difficult years of pioneering and
of the Depression, which, as most readers will know, was exacerbated
drought. Focusing so hard on survival, then on getting ahead for
eventual benefit of his children, Carl neglects to empathize
emotionally with his wife and family, distancing himself ever further
from them as he becomes more successful.
The German Reformed Church they attend, an institution which came
being at a time when religious authority was unquestioned, alienates
the family further through its rule-ridden pastor. The author does
wonderful job of evoking the details of life on a Dakota farm during
this period. Language, the rapid growth of agricultural technology,
government programs, cultural quirks--they’re all here.
Where else, but in a book like this, would you learn: That we said
"overhauls" instead of overalls for that ubiquitous male
most farm dogs were dropped off by some passing motorist and cats
mysteriously appeared in the barn one day begging for milk. That
on the farm was innately terribly dangerous. That rural folk scrambled
to acquire machines because they lost their sons and harvest workers
death or modernity and the demands of the wars of the twentieth
century. That senior members of the family bobbed between their
their children’s homes and rarely lived in a public setting.
generation born during this period was the first ever to receive
education; that young people had no frame of reference for “school,”
and adjusting to its demands was not easy. That the 1950s was a
when a hard-working, smart person, starting out with few resources,
could do well.
Aman’s writing is straightforward, largely a chain of simple
declarative sentences. Yet, I found myself caught up in his story
opens to readers the changes, the stresses, the emotional charge
what it meant to live and grow up German Russian on the farms of
Dakotas during the twentieth century. This way of life, this world,
hardly exists any more. It is an important part of our story, our