A Stranger to Myself
Book Review by Joan Steiger, Oakmont Village News
A young woman, Marka, has left the "there’s nothing-to-do-here" small town of Ridley, South Dakota, where she grew up, to move to Denver. She grew disillusioned with the big city that was supposed to offer such glamour, glitz, and pizzazz, but provided heartache and hard knocks instead. She’s returned to Ridley, moving in with her old-maid aunt, Anna, and together, they try to navigate life.
Set in the 1950’s, this book offers insights into the lives of the German Russian people who settled in South Dakota and neighboring states. They emigrated from Germany to Russia when Catherine the Great promised them free land, promised that neither the men nor their male offspring would be conscripted into the Russian military, and promised them freedom from taxes for decades. Many Germans eagerly accepted her terms. After Catherine died, her promises were rescinded. Harsh measures were meted out to these German immigrants. As a result, many fled Russia, settling in Canada and the U.S. During WWII, these immigrants in the U.S. found themselves the recipients of discrimination and hatred because of their German heritage. Then, in the 1950’s, they experienced more ugliness at the hands of the McCarty-ites who accused them of being Communists because they had emigrated from Russia.
Marka and Anna are of German Russian heritage. Anna repeatedly warns Marka to be careful about what she says, who she talks to and associates with, and all sorts of other warnings. Marka ignores Anna’s stipulations and remarks. Instead, she decided to keep an open mind and meet the new people in Ridley on her own terms.
As Marka melds into the fabric of small town living, she learns the people whom she likes the most are the ones she has been warned to avoid. She also has to deal with the house her parents owned and left to her after their deaths. The house holds unpleasant memories of a father who was an alcoholic and a mother who couldn’t deal with her husband’s drinking. The house has been empty for a few years, and it needs a lot of work.
As Marka makes friends in Ridley, she begins to come to terms with her past, her parents, and her experiences in Denver. Often confused and hurt, she understands she has much to learn and much to regret. Her life in Ridley is a series of lessons.
Judy Frothinger has been a writer for years. She has been part of writing workshops and has experienced successes as a writer, winning recognition for her authenticity. She spent many years on the research for this, her first book. Judy, like her main character, is of German Russian heritage. She is gathering material for her second book. She and her husband live in Santa Rosa, California.