I-Alice Embrace the Yester Years

Review by Virginia Byfield

Katherina, Alice. I-Alice Embrace the Yester Years. Edited by Jeanette Zollner. Clagary, Alberta, 1996.

Germans from Russia (cataloging in process). (not available on interlibrary loan).

Kanewischer traces her clan's history from the mid-19th century to 1945. She intended her book primarily for her "extended family " -- the Croissants (her mother's people), the Schuetzles (her father's people) and myriad collateral connections (Lorenz, Roth, Klukus, Schuler, Dufloth, Myer, Hepper and more), especially her grandchildren. But it is of far wider interest.

Mrs. Kanewischer imaginatively reconstructs their earlier experiences through family legend and living memory, especially that of her mother's elder sister Sarah. Also helpful were such artifacts as the notation inscribed by her maternal great-grandfather in the Gothic German script in his Bible, which begins: "I Jacob Croissant was born in South Russia, in the colony of Rohrbach, in the year of 1851, October 29..." (The "I-Alice" with which she refers to herself picks up this Schwabian-German idiom.) He was the man who in 1909 led his own family and two of their families to central Alberta.

With her mother's life and her own, author Kanewischer is on firmer historical ground. Her recollections of childhood and youth on the farm through the 1930s and 40s vividly depict a life whose joys and hardships may be literally incomprehensible to young people today--even rural ones. The routine hardships become entirely real. So do the love and kindness with which the Schuetzles cared for a helplessly handicapped son, and (for nine years) a dangerously demented grandmother.

The writing, the editing and the production of neophyte and self-published books varies greatly, of course, but it can reach professional levels. These four are among the best, and each in its own style is fascinating--because it is personal, it is local, and (we are assured) true as its author can make it. And they all accomplish their purpose, capturing one particular slice of 20th-century life for the rest of us--or our descendants--to ponder.

Reprinted with permission of the Alberta Report, Medicine Hat, Alberta, March 16, 1998.

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