Between Earth & Sky
Marquart, Debra. "Between Earth & Sky." New Letters 68, no. 2, 2002: 35-51.
There's a story that goes around in my family that my great-grandmother, upon seeing the strip of land in central North Dakota that she had traveled from south Russia by boat, rail, and oxen to claim in 1885, fell to the ground and cried, "It's all earth and sky." I'm told it sounded better in German-das ist der Himmel auf Erden-and I don't doubt it. Growing up as a grandchild of immigrants in a small town populated largely by ethnic Germans who had fled Russia around the turn of the century, I was constantly reminded that everything sounded more clever or grave, more funny or profound when uttered in the mother tongue.
Perhaps my great-grandmother responded to the treeless, unbroken plain of grassland in much the same way as did Beret, the Norwegian pioneer woman in Ole Rolvaag's classic novel of immigrant experience, Giants in the Earth: "All along the way, coming out, she had noticed this strange thing: the stillness had grown deeper, the silence more depressing, the farther west they journeyed: it must have been over two weeks now since she had heard a bird sing!"
In Giants in the Earth, Beret grows to pathologically fear the expanse of the plains. She describes it as a "bluish, green infinity" against which there is no place to hide. When another pioneer caravan passes through and presses deeper into the unimaginable void, Beret watches the settlers' wagons as they grow small on the horizon, "receding farther and farther under the brow of heaven," until, at last, they disappear. "But whether into the earth or into the sky," she thinks, "no one could tell."
What Beret must have sensed was missing in that expanse of green and blue, and what my great-grandmother may have instinctively feared, was that missing sliver, a small margin of culture, necessary in the landscape for survival-not a culture of opera or ballet, but a culture of potatoes and onions, pots and pans, doilies, curtains, and bed linens in which children could be fed and sheltered.
Into that negative space, my grandmother must have known, she would be expected to pour her days and nights, the work of her hands, and all of her imagination to bring shape to these things. On the journey across the country, my grandmother was pregnant, as was the character Beret in Giants in the Earth. On the wagon as they approach their land, Beret's husband, Per Hansa, thinks about his wife's condition: "Beret was going to have a baby again. Only a blessing, of course-but what a lot of their time it would take up just now! Oh well, she would have to bear the brunt of it herself, as the woman usually did."
I remember these lines even though I read the novel over fifteen years ago. I find them easily because they are underlined. I understand as I read them again that I have been looking for my great-grandmother for a long time, searching deep in the crevices of old maps and books for her. Genealogies are never enough. How sad to think of a whole life reduced to these dry facts-birth and death, marriage dates, the inadequate word, "wife" or "mother" chiseled on a tombstone in a graveyard no one knows to visit.
My great-grandmother did not last long in America. She died in childbirth in February of 1900, fifteen years after her arrival, trying to deliver her eleventh child, a daughter who would die with her on that day. And when I read these details in her obituary, Rolvaag's words ring in my ears: The great plain drinks the blood of Christian men and is satisfied. I have nothing tangible with which to gauge the quality of her life-no photographs, no worn-thin marriage bands, no engraved silver platters-only this single line she was known to have uttered at one of the most desperate moments of her life.
Would she understand me, this grandchild of hers, childless at forty, now as old as she was when she died, living out my life on the precipice of the millennium, just as her own life straddled the twentieth-century mark.
She did not leave Russia by 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 on the run from the Russian Army. I learn the barest bones of the story from my older cousin, Tony, who is my father's age, but who seems to remember better these stories about the old days. We are sitting at the round oak table in his big kitchen, listening to him talk about great-grandma and grandpa. My father has come along to ask his own questions and to hear Tony's answers.
Both men are in their seventies, but they look remarkably young, as the men in my family tend to. They are both short with slight builds, and their facial features, like mine, when viewed from certain angles look slightly Asiatic. But what I notice most as I sit listening to Tony is how much our hands are alike-small hands with a narrow palm and a well-shaped thumb-although Tony is missing a joint on his left middle finger from what I don't ask, but assume was most likely a farming accident.
What strikes me even more that day is how much our gestures are alike. As we talk, we all place our hands on the table in front of us, fingers clasped together in the shape of a pyramid.
Most of my adult life, I have lived out in the world in cities and university towns with men and women from every conceivable part of the world, so the sight of so many small hands like my own on the table before me is stunning. For that moment, I see my hands as part of an ongoing chain of hands-no longer mine, free to do anything they please, but bound to my ancestors by blood, mannerism, and duty. These are the hands I was given to write with. Now what is there for me to do with them?
Historically, German-Russians were a gentle people whose abilities blossomed in the presence of plants and animals. Over the centuries, they sought fertile, low lying plains for their farming-first, the lush Rhine valley of central Europe in the 1700s, then the rolling steppes of south Russia in the 1800s. This perfect farmland they sought-treeless rolling plains-was also the ideal terrain to roll troops across. Consequently they are the people whose crops have been trampled by every major ruler who tried to make a land grab on the continent of Europe.
We German-Russians will never mold history; history will always roll violently over us. In old war novels and movies, look for us. We will be the anonymous-dead-nobodies left to rot in the countryside, our pockets turned out, our shoes stolen, our faces bloodied to an unrecognizable pulp while the hero destined for history books marches on to the capital city for victory.
For this reason, I find myself empathizing with the powerless at every turn. I scan the crowds of refugees on CNN, searching for faces that look like my great-grandparents. Watching episodes of Star Trek, I grow anxious for the new crew member, the one who is not part of the permanent cast, when he is enlisted to join the Away team. I know he will be the one to catch the incurable virus or be vaporized on Planet X, ten million light years away from home.
In the same way I have always felt sorry for Antigonus, the loyal but short-sighted Lord in Shakespeare's Winter's Tale. Faithful to a fault, he delivers the baby girl-child Perdita to the wild, stormy hillside where her father, the King, hopes she will perish. With this act, Antigonus terminates his usefulness.
In fact the plot so requires that Antigonus not reveal the secret of how he disposed of Perdita (so the surprise is maximized later in the play when she appears, fully grown) that the only thing left for the playwright to do is kill him off. Shakespeare disposes of Antigonus as economically as possible. The sight of that most famous of stage directions, "Antigonus: Exit, pursued by bear," always saddens me. Reading this, I decide never to be useful to kings. Never to hold their terrible secrets.
How did the German-Russians survive their migrations across warring regions? Our bodies are small, but we are built low to the ground, able to hide in times of trouble. Guns have never fit well in our hands, so molded to the scythe and the plow. To avoid a fight we have picked up and moved to another continent-in 1808 from Alsace-Lorraine in central Europe to south Russia; then in 1900 from south Russia to the Dakota Territory.
But every few generations, a few of us are born angry or stubborn, or perhaps as foolish as a miniature toy poodle I once observed who was so yappy and bold that he barred me from passing him on a sidewalk. He didn't seem to know that even though he was barking with the confidence of big-poodle genes, in reality he was only a palm-sized dog.
By all accounts, my great-grandfather, Joseph, was just such a person, a small man with big plans and lordly instincts. Like Per Hansa in Rolvaag's Giants in the Earth, he looked out on the unbroken plain while his wife collapsed in tears beside him and thought to himself, I am "going to do something remarkable out here, which should become known far and wide. This kingdom is going to be mine."
For years it seemed, I found my great-grandfather in every third novel I read. In Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, he's the land-hungry father, Larry Cook; in Willa Cather's O Pioneers!, he's the land-loving settler John Bergson, who even from the grave would have appreciated the look of a full field of grain, "so heavy that it bends toward the blade and cuts like velvet."
In Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom, I found my great-grandfather in the character, Thomas Sutpen, a stranger who appears in Yoknapatawpha county with a mysterious past, whose goal it is to secure a pedigreed bride from an old southern family, then come to own one hundred square miles of land by any means, and create a solid lineage of children bearing his name straight out of him and into the future.
I see myself as part of that line so carefully constructed by my great-grandfather's craftiness and talent. I recognize myself in Absalom, Absalom as the young, preoccupied Quentin Compton, "listening, having to listen, to one of the ghosts which had refused to lie still even longer than most had, telling him about old ghost-times."
As the bearer of my great-grandfather's name and the first writer in the family, I am the person to whom the phantoms come late at night when I am too groggy to identify the full shape of them. Quentin's very body, Faulkner writes, "was an empty hall echoing with sonorous defeated names; he was not a being, an entity, he was a commonwealth." My ghosts wave subtle whiffs of stories before my sleeping nose, then tell me to construct the rest out of the disconnected unreadable fragments.
In the only picture I have of my great-grandfather, he's sitting on a wooden bench in front of an old storefront. He's wearing a trim black suit and a brimmed hat. The image is grainy and has been copied many times. It's hard to make out the features of his face because he's wearing glasses and a thick mustache with his brim pulled down over his face. He looks like someone in disguise, and perhaps he is. The story in our family is that he removed the letter "d" from our name, Marquardt, when he came to America in order to throw off the scent of the Russian military, whose long arm, he was certain, could stretch to the Dakota Territory and find him.
From the photo, one can see his directness-he has aimed his body into the lens. He's stilled himself and straightened his back for the snap of the camera. Something in the set of his jaw says, posterity, like he knows about the fact of me and is confident that I, a person of his blood, will be here seventy years later staring back at him.
He looks relaxed, as if he's in town on a sunny day with all the other old farmers to complain about wheat prices, shipping costs, and the lack of rain. This picture reminds me of a poem by the North Dakota poet, Roland Flint, that depicts two immigrant farmers encountering each other in front of the Luxury Ice Cream and Creamery on the main street of their small town:
where that Norwegian farmer asked another,
"Are you in town today, too, then?" "No,"
said the other, "I just come in with the cream."
As if to be in town you had to be in town,
to be there.
In this picture, my great-grandfather is in town. His legs are set wide; his hands are resting confidently on each knee, as if all real work in life has been done. Against the backdrop of his thin black suit, his hands appear massive, his fingers like rows of thick sausages, his fists huge as hamhocks. Surely this is an optical illusion. In the context of the picture, his hands appear larger than his face or his thin neck. They look brutish, as if they have grasped for much in their life, growing more enormous, perhaps, with each acquisition. These are the hands, I think, that got us out of Russia.
In 1880, when my great-grandfather was a young man of twenty-four in Kandel, his village in south Russia-my cousin Tony tells me this story-he was of the first generation of German colonists to be drafted into the Russian military. Before this time, the German-Russians were under the special protection of the Czar and were guaranteed certain privileges, including freedom from taxation, freedom of religion, and freedom from military service.
By January of 1874, after the disaster of the Crimean War and the emancipation of the serfs, the special status of the German colonists and other minorities within the Russian empire changed. Czar Alexander II's war minister, Dmitri A. Miliutin decreed that "the defense of the fatherland forms the sacred duty of every Russian citizen."
I do not know the details of my great-grandfather's induction into the army or where he served, although I have heard stories from other German-Russian families of military convoys arriving in the villages late at night, going door to door and demanding from each household young men to serve. I have read of women hiding their sons in the rafters, knowing that young men rarely return whole if they return at all. I have also read of those Russian soldiers stepping into the houses and firing their weapons through the roofs of houses to discourage the practice of hiding sons in rafters.
I do not know in which Russian battles or wars, if any, my great-grandfather fought or if he ever killed a man. It's only from his obituary that I learn he rose somehow to the rank of officer.
It's my older cousin Tony who remembers Great-Grandpa telling the story of why he fled to America in 1885 and how he was smuggled out of south Russia-fins-terheit is the word Tony says Great-Grandpa used, under cover of darkness. I ask Tony, what could have caused him to run away from military service, to jeopardize the future of his family, his wife and children, and all his property.
Around the slim skeleton of this story, there were, no doubt, many heart-pounding moments of terror and excitement, but these have all fallen away over the last 110 years. The short answer, the only one that remains, is that one day my great-grandfather flew into a rage and struck a commanding officer-a feld veilv, as cousin Tony recalls the title, a Russian field marshal.
I try to imagine the harsh conditions inside the Russian Imperial army, where an individual soldier's life has been described by many historians as without worth. In The Russian Century, a collection of previously unpublished photographs that document Russian life, the editors Annabel Merullo and Sarah Jackson have reprinted a casual black-and-white photograph of the Czar's army taken in a wooded area. Hundreds of uniformed men have crowded together in a small clearing, the men in the front sitting on the ground, the men in the middle sitting on stools, and those in back standing. The faces go on and on, deep into the woods, each face a small cameo of a life, each face someone's father, husband, and son whose death will send streams of grief through the lines of extended family that loves him.
"In the Great War ledger," the German commander Hindenburg who fought the Russians wrote, "the page on which the Russian losses were written has been torn out. No one knows the figure. Five millions or eight millions? We too have no idea. All we know is that sometimes in our battles with the Russians we had to remove the mounds of enemy corpses in order to get a clear field of fire against fresh assaulting waves."
Here Hindenburg is writing about the army of the early twentieth century, a time when conditions had improved inside the Russian military. In his book, From Catherine to Khrushchev, Adam Giesinger describes the fate of the peasant soldier before the military reforms of 1874 as a "fearsome one. To the poor serf who had the misfortune of being drafted, his fate was worse than a term in the penitentiary." Typically, Giesinger writes, terms of service were twenty-five years, and "to his family, his leave-taking was the same as death."
Even though Tolstoy's War and Peace is set during the Napoleonic wars-around the time that my ancestors first arrived in Russia-the scenes that Tolstoy paints of the hungry army on the move are vivid and useful to my imaginings.
Half the regiments have formed themselves into free companies, scouring the countryside and putting everything to fire and sword. The inhabitants were ruined, root and branch.
I try to imagine my great-grandfather in the middle of this chaos and ask what kind of a dispute would be important enough to cause him, an ethnically German minor officer serving against his will within the Russian army to abandon all concern for self-preservation and strike a powerful Russian superior. As an act this is not consistent with what I know about my meek and evasive ancestors. With this detail I must come to terms with either how cheeky, principled, and irrepressibly proud my great-grandfather was, or how foolish and impulsive he may have been.
I'd like to imagine him as a young man, my great-grandfather, one of those thousands in his long dusty greatcoat on the move with his regiment, which Tolstoy vividly describes in War and Peace:
On every side, behind and before, as far as the ear could hear there was the creaking of wheels, the rumble of wagons, carts, and gun-carriages, the tramp of hooves, the cracking of whips, the shouts of drivers urging on their horses, the cursing of soldiers, orderlies and officers. Lying by the sides of the road were the carcasses of dead horses, some flayed, some not, and broken-down carts beside which solitary soldiers sat waiting for something; then again he saw soldiers straying from the main column and hastening in bands to the neighboring villages or returning from them dragging fowls, sheep, hay or bulging sacks.
Would he have been part of the order or the chaos, my great-grandfather? Somewhere in this scene, I know, he takes a swing, connects with another man's chin or stomach or chest. Was alcohol involved? Stolen property? The unfair treatment of fellow soldiers? Women? I look for clues about the harsh conditions of his service everywhere in War and Peace.
At each slope, up and down, of the road the crowds packed closer and the din of shouting was more incessant. Soldiers floundering knee-deep in mud pulled at the guns and wagons themselves. Whips cracked, hooves slipped, traces gave way and lungs were split with yelling. The officers directing the retreat rode back and forth among the wagons. Their voices were but feebly audible amid the general uproar and their faces betrayed their despair of being able to check the chaos.
According to my cousin Tony's memory, my great-grandfather survived his act of insubordination with the help of a fellow officer, also a German. Would a court martial or the firing squad have awaited him at daybreak? The German superior must have been powerful enough to accomplish the things that I know from the family story happened next-he was smuggled that night out of the country and eventually made his way to Bremen, Germany, where he spent several months waiting for my great-grandmother and their children to follow.
I imagine him that night waiting for light to fall, so that he can make his planned escape. Things have been arranged for him, but still there is much danger. In the background, the troops are stirring. In War and Peace, Tolstoy describes such a night on the warfront:
In the dark it seemed as though a sombre invisible river flowed on and on in one direction, murmuring with whispers and the droning of voices, the sound of hooves and wheels. Amid the general hum, clearer than all the other voices in the blackness of the night, rose the groans of the wounded. The gloom that enveloped the army was filled with their cries. Their groaning was one with the blackness of the night.
Away from this noise of darkness and gloom, this moaning of the wounded, my great-grandfather rode, as if floating on that invisible river. As he rides, the sound of the army diminishes, becomes softer and softer until all he can hear is the sound of his horse, the clopping of hooves on the dark path. So nice for him-a farmer by trade-to be back in the presence of pure nature. He carries with him a sack with a few small potatoes in it, a pinch of salt. He stops by the side of the road to eat and draw some water from a stream. Perhaps he has a companion to help him across the border; perhaps he is alone.
He sits down by the creek and listens to the wind moving through the trees, feels the cool grass beneath him. He is tired and a bit stunned, no doubt, at the events that have transpired in the last twenty-four hours. He thinks of his wife, my great-grandmother, and of his two small daughters back in the village on the Dniester river just north of the Black Sea. Will he ever see them again. Will he see his own mother and father, the church where he was married, the school where he taught before he was inducted. Will he ever again see the graves where his grandparents are buried, or the flat, fertile fields he worked with his father as a young man? Before him in that long night are only unknowns and a silence that stretches out into the darkness.
It's so easy to think of our ancestors' lives as stories resolved. They hover over our left shoulders like wise, old souls we draw courage from during our own hard times. When we look at them in pictures, we see them as people whose lives are settled, written, and complete before ours have even begun. But behind those masks of settlers' faces in old photographs, behind those serious black clothes, one can be certain that great suffering and deeply conflicted thoughts were going on-a woman's pinched mouth betrays a lifetime of anger stored up against her husband; a child is itchy and uncomfortable in new clothes; a husband's confused expression shows he wonders why his wife produces only daughters and no sons.
For this moment, where I find my great-grandfather on a riverbank fleeing court martial, I want to think of him simply as a young man, as uncertain of his future as I am in my own life each day. He is sitting in the dark by a creek somewhere in southwestern Russia, eating stale bread, on the run from the Russian military. For this moment, he is simply a traveler-out of all place and time. None of the assurances of the photographs he will take later in life in America are with him now.
Does he tear off a piece of bread, try to calm himself. He is twenty-eight years old. Beside him on the ground is the small, olive-colored wool blanket he will sleep on. Does his companion talk too much or too little? Close to them in the night, chewing and snuffling, are the horses they will ride to the border.
He thinks about how he has just committed the most brilliant or the most stupid act of his life, and right now he has no idea which of either it is. The only thing to do is to rest his head on the ground, feel his heart beat, listen to the stream move in the darkness, and know that he is as alone, helpless, and untethered in the world as he has ever been.
The ground beneath his head that night is some of the most consistently inhabited and well-traveled real estate in the world-the great Pontic steppe, which throughout time has been the contact zone for groups as diverse as the Kurgan people, the Scythians, who traveled in nomadic packs west across the steppes from Siberia, and the Sarmartians, another nomadic Indo-Iranian group migrating west out of the steppe between the Volga and Don rivers.
According to Neal Ascherson's Black Sea, the land where my great-grandfather lays his head this quiet night in 1885, has been the stomping grounds for a "succession of ethnicities: Tatar villages; colonies of Russian veteran soldiers and their descendants; settlements of Polish exiles; neat farming districts where almost everyone was German; Cossack stanitsas ('stations' or 'villages'); Jewish shtetls." This land has been home to the Greeks, Thracians, the Prussians, Armenians, and the Moldovans, all in their own time.
Ascherson reports that near the Dniester liman-the river that flows next to the village where my great-grandmother sleeps peacefully for this last night-is the ruins of the ancient colony of Tyras, surrounded by the huge Turkish fortress of Akerman which has been partially buried by the waters of the encroaching Black Sea.
How did the German colonists come to believe-a mere seventy-five years into their inhabitation of it-that they belonged so completely to this Russian Steppe? But I understand this feeling of surety. When I was a child growing up in North Dakota, with a mere seventy-five years of family land ownership to assure me, I could not imagine a time when my hometown would not be in the middle of North Dakota. I could not have imagined a time when a member of my family would not live on this land that our great-grandfather had forged for us. In this surety, there is a comfort the effects of which cannot be easily described or assessed.
"A pioneer should have imagination," Willa Cather observes in O Pioneers! They "should be able to enjoy the idea of things more than the things themselves." And O.E. Rolvaag seems to agree. In Giants in the Earth, his character Per Hansa observes about his wife, Beret: "She has never felt at home here in America. There are some people, I know now, who never should emigrate, because, you see, they can't take pleasure in that which is to come-they simply can't see it!"
From the few words I have to remember my great-grandmother by- "It's all earth and sky"-I can't say for sure whether she possessed imagination. But from the parts of her story that I do know, it's clear she was brave. She would have had to liquidate all of the family's assets before leaving Kandel to meet my great-grandfather in Bremen where he waited for her. The exhausting trip across eastern Europe with all their possessions and the balance of their money, as well as their two small children from the steppes to Bremen by rail, then to America by boat, then, pregnant, across the country to Dakota Territory by train, and finally to her homestead by oxen, must have felt like some weird regression, as if she were traveling back in time, back to her own grandparents' Danube trek from the Rhine valley east to Russia in 1808. Did the irony occur to her-two generations later, they were starting all over in the wilderness, again.
Back in the villages, she would have had to leave behind her neat home, the fenced-in yard, the vineyards and the graveyards where her grandparents were buried. She would have had to say goodbye not only to her own family, but also to my great-grandfather's side of the family. From their arms, she would have pulled her two small daughters and stepped onto the departing train.
I wonder how these people, with their long history of dramatic migrations, could bear one more farewell? I realize now, from reading Joseph Height's description of the original flight in 1808 of my Alsatian ancestors to Russia during the time of the French revolution, that my great-grandfather's secretive evacuation out of Russia was simply part of an old, recurring pattern with which the colonists would have been familiar. In Paradise on the Steppe, Height describes the conditions under which the colonists had left their families behind in the Rhine valley in 1808:
There was no public send-off. No bell to toll the sad hour of their departure from their native lands. No song of farewell resounded in their ears. No priest imparted a last blessing for their long and hazardous journey. Traveling under cover of darkness, small groups moved stealthily along unfrequented roads and hidden by-ways.
Later when she arrived in the Dakota Territory and saw the devastating conditions, how did she find the strength to stay? Perhaps, as Carrie Young observes in her memoir about her own Scandinavian mother who pioneered in the Dakota Territory: "The women who followed their husbands out must have received a shock from which it was difficult to recover. . . . Fortunately for their husbands, there was nothing to do but stay."
When settlers arrived in North America, Richard Manning writes in his book about the plains, Grasslands, they discovered not the god of the hedged-in, safe villages back in Europe, the New Testament god, which Manning describes as the "god of logic derived from thirty centuries of civilization." Instead, they encountered the god of Job, Manning says, "the god of fire and plague, a brutal and capricious creator like the predecessor god of the Christians, the Old Testament deity that had not yet consented to grace."
Perhaps this is why, as Willa Cather notes in O Pioneers!, "the Bible seemed truer here," and it's also why the character Beret in Giants in the Earth admonishes those around her about abandoning their Christian beliefs: "Man have power? Breathe it not, for that is to tempt the Almighty!" I feel certain this is what drove my great-grandmother to the ground that first day, the realization that she had come face to face with the god-of-no-promises to whom she must prostrate herself.
And what did my great-grandfather see in the emptiness as he stood beside her? From all accounts, he saw only open space and promise, as if he could reach his hands up and pull down heaven.
He had seen the fancy broadside posters back in Europe that were printed to lure immigrants to the American west. "America, Land of Opportunity," the posters had said, and now he could see with his own eyes they hadn't lied. In a few years, with the work of his own hands, everything would be there before him-he could almost see it now-the endless fields of wheat waving like spun gold in the wind.
Our appreciation is extended to Debra Marquart for permission to republish this article.
About the Author
An associate professor of English, Debra Marquart is the poetry editor of Flyway Literary Review and the Coordinator of the Creative Writing Program at Iowa State University, Ames. Ms. Marquart's work has appeared in numerous journals such as North American Review, Three Penny Review, New Letters, River City, Zone 3, Cumberland Poetry Review, Kalliope, Southern Poetry Review, and Witness.
In the seventies and eighties, Marquart was a touring band road musician with roch and heavy metal bands. Her collection of short stories, The Hunger Bone: Rock & Roll Stories (New River Press, 2001) draws from her experiences as a female road musician. Marquart continues to perform with a jazz-poetry rhythm & blues projects, The Bone People, with whom she released two CDs in 1996: Orange Parade (acoustic rock); and A Regular Dervish (jazz-poetry).
Marquart's poetry collections are Everything's Verb (New River Press, 1995) and From Sweetness (Pear Editions, 2002). She is currently at work on a memoir, The Horizontal Life: On Rebellion and Return, about growing up a rebellious farmer's daughter on a North Dakota wheat farm.
Debra Marquart is a native of Napoleon, Logan County, in south central North Dakota, settled in the 1880s and 1890s by many Germans from Russia immigrants from South Russia, today near Odessa, Ukraine.
Her undergraduate studies were at Moorhead State University, Moorhead, Minnesota, 1984; Master of Liberal Arts, Creative Writing, Moorhead State University; and Master of Arts, 1990, Creative Writing, Iowa State University, Ames, 1993.