Review by Edna Boardman, Bismarck, North Dakota
Vossler, Ronald J. Why I Never Called Death the River, and Other Voices from the Valley of Hope: A Prairie Album. North Dakota State University Libraries, Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, Fargo, North Dakota, 2003.
In poems that burrow into the thoughts and emotions of his characters,
Ron Vossler tells the story of the fictional village of New Odessa
in Odessa County, Hoffnungstal Township, in southern North Dakota.
Imagining their origins in the village of Hoffnungstal in Russia,
he provides searing insights into the lives of Germans from Russia
during their early decades of
settlement on the prairies. Hoffnungstal, the name of several villages in Russia, means valley of hope.
As the reader moves from poem to poem, a story flow emerges. A
death/suicide occurs, and there is plenty of discussion as to culpability.
A family that had been "outsiders," even in Russia, gradually
intermarries with those who still look down on them. A folk healer
continues to bind up
physical ills. The Zion German Church of the Prairies is the center of life in the village and also the locus of much controversy; the members manipulate the minister until he preaches the fiery sermons his parishioners prefer. A widow remarries but can't refrain from holding her dead husband up as an ideal; her second husband tells of the soul-searing pain this causes
him. Home brew kills a young man who drank it. There is more.
Vossler aims to remind Germans from Russia readers of their heritage of stories and feelings, but he also hopes to reach a wider audience with his book. Other immigrants to the new world may have had similar experiences in adjusting. This is an excellent book for the generation who wishes to look back at their grandparents' experiences. It is also for younger persons who are interested in genealogy and want to know what the emotional/cultural lives of those people on their charts were like but don¹t think the many factual reminiscences tell enough.