The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle
Review by Edna Boardman, Bismarck, North Dakota
Marquart, Debra. The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere. New York: Counterpoint Press, 2006.
In a recent presentation, Michael Miller of the Germans from Russia
Heritage Collection, spoke of his Oral History Project. He commented
wryly that he always knew interviews had run their course when the
interviewees started talking about their kids. Well, one of those
“kids,” born in 1956 and 50 years old in the year of
publication, has finally spoken out about her heritage as she remembers
it--three generations removed from the original immigrants--and
not a lame account.
Debra Marquart, who teaches English at Iowa State University in
Iowa, has pulled together her writing, most of which originally
appeared in other publications, and produced this, her fourth book.
slashes, pushes back, probes, philosophizes, and fantasizes as she
remembers growing up the fifth and last child of German Russian
bent on keeping the farm in the family. It was land acquired during
homesteading period by her paternal immigrant grandfather Joseph
Marquart. Working incredibly hard, her family was/is committed to
wresting grain and milk from a farm located near Napoleon on the
rolling Missouri Escarpment that runs northwest-southeast across
swath of North Dakota, She tells of picking rocks (they push to
surface every year from the depths of the glacier-deposited hills),
hefting bales, butchering chickens, driving the tractor, spreading
bedding for livestock with a pitchfork,... All the while plotting
And escape she did, noting that the view of North Dakota she liked
best at the time was the sight she saw while adjusting her car’s
view mirror. She went to college, joined a rock band when she was
handful of credits shy of graduation, married--twice, became a teacher
at the university level, and has written some widely-received books.
Now, in this book, she reflects on her heritage of family and ethnicity
and place and what its meaning has been for her.
She tells a story familiar to German Russians everywhere: "My
great-grandmother came to this country, as all of my mother’s
did, from Lutheran villages in the Glueckstal region of New Russia,
west of the Dniester River on the Black Sea. My great-grandfather,
Frederick Hoffer,...had immigrated to Dakota Territory in 1899 with
his two brothers." pp123-4.
"My great-grandmother, Barbara Hulm Marquart, did not leave
choice. I know that now. She left Kandel, her village on the steppes
near the Black Sea, to follow my great-grandfather Joseph who was
the run from forced induction into the Russian army." p 144.
a Catholic village, and the complications created by this "mixed
marriage" were part of what shaped her.
Says Marquart: "...I think about the generations of my family
have dedicated their lives to keeping their name tied to this parcel
land for 110 years, using all their strength, resources, energy,
imagination to outwit the forces, natural or otherwise, that would
easily strip us of this sense of belonging. And I think about how
have benefitted from the sense of rootedness that this place has
afforded me as I have cast about, rootless in the world." p24.
As do many others who read her book and those written by Kathleen
Norris, author of Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, I saw many connections
with her. A heritage rooted in German villages on the steppes of
Russia, young life on a farm on the Missouri Escarpment (in my case,
where it crosses the southern portion of Ward County), the need
the land in the family, religion and conformity as central values,...
And we won’t forget how wary I was of the farm boys and how
was of lapses that might have blocked my escape to the larger outside
This is not a book for the faint of heart; Marquart does not cater
a German Russian reader who shares her ethnic background and prefers
things all tidy and clean. She rebelled hard against her farm
upbringing and she tells of doing wild things that would earn the
disapproval of elders today as they did when she was a teen. Marquart’s
writing is polished, professional. A fine addition to the memoir