Bending the Twig: A Memoir

By Kenneth Goetz

Published by 1stBooks Library, Bloomington, Indiana, 2002, 191 pages, softcover

Central North Dakota Library Network

Described as a "Memoir," the book is autobiographical and a description of growing up in South Dakota, living in very modest circumstances through the thirties and forties when most of our families were experiencing hope and an improvement in their material condition, post depression and post war.

The book may be summarized as follows: These haunting and glowing memories of growing up hard on the Dakota prairie during the great depression tell the story of a boy whose early life was clouded, along with those of his siblings, by an alcoholic father, a dying mother, and hunger-steeped poverty. Though his future appeared dim, Kenneth Goetz was lucky, he tells us, and emerged from his stressful boyhood to become a physician and prize-winning medical researcher. This memoir bristles with authenticity as it lays out the harsh and redeeming truths of the people and the prairie that shaped the author's formative years -- an unforgettable story of family love, treachery, small joys, and loss.

There are hilarious incidents (admittedly not hilarious at the time) such as an encounter with a skunk which brought a hasty close to earning spending money with trapping, and sad episodes with a mother's declining health, a poignant and companionable episode of grandfather's telling a young man how lucky he was when he felt anything but lucky and his circumstances would seem to indicate no luck in his life.

Professor Emeritus Albert Stone, Editor of Singular Lives: The Iowa Series in North American Autobiography, wrote of Bending the Twig: "I enjoyed and learned and felt a good deal from reading this often stressful emotional experience. is never without hope and humor. As with "Angela's Ashes," it is a bitter story told with style, honesty, sympathy, and irony. Indeed, sympathy for both mother and father makes a striking parallel between this story and Frank McCourt's."

About the Author

Kenneth Goetz's hometown is Java, South Dakota. His Goetz ancestors lived in the village of Glueckstal, South Russia, (today Glinnoje, Moldova) from 1816 to 1905. His grandfather, Johann Jakob Goetz came to the United States settled in Java. The Schafers, his mother's people, came from Borodino, Bessarabia, and his mother's maternal side, the Zweigardts, came to America from Hoffnungstal.

Kenneth Goetz served in the U.S. Air Force in Germany and graduated with high honors from the University of Wisconsin. After earning his Ph.D. and M.D. degrees, he joined the University of Kansas Medical Center faculty, and later St. Luke's Hospital of Kansas City, to pursue extensive investigation of the cardiovascular system. His research earned him the prestigious German Humboldt Award. After serving as a visiting professor in Finnish and German universities, and at the German Institute of Aerospace Medicine, he gave up his scientific life to devote himself to writing. He and his wife live in the Kansas City area. They have a son and a daughter. Their son and his wife recently presented them with their first granddaughter.

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Review by Edna Boardma

Bending the Twig: A Memoir

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