Friday, February 22, 2013

Coming to America: A survey of immigrant novels and memoirs

Here is a reading list of books  I discussed recently in a class at LifeVentures in Wichita.   My topic was  Coming to America: A survey of immigrant novels and memoirs. I enjoy reading and discussing these books because my parents were immigrants to Canada in 1923 from the Ukraine. I was an immigrant to the United States with my husband and family in 1962.  With immigration much in the news these days, we could all benefit by learning more about why people leave homeland for a new unknown country.I am adding a new book written by me:  My Emigrant Father: Jacob J. Funk, 1896-1986.  It is the story of my father's side of the family beginning in Prussia to their death in Canada, always emigrants, always leaving, never quite arriving.

Questions to consider when reading these books:
1.      Where did these people come from?
2.      Why did these people leave their homelands?
3.      What did they bring with them?  Leave behind?
4.      What did they hope to find in their new homeland?
5.      What obstacles did they face in achieving their new goals ?
6.      What did they eventually  gain?
7.      Why were several of these books rejected at first by their own community?

Roelvaag, O.E. Giants in the Earth: A Saga of the Prairie. Sell also Peder Victorious and Their Father’s God.  Husband and wife Per and Beret Hans come from Norway to the Dakotas to face snowstorms, fire, locusts and their own fears and superstitions.  One of the best in this genre.

Moberg, Vilhelm. The Emigrants, Unto a Good Land, The Settlers, Last Letter Home. These four novels depict the struggles of the Swedish Nilssons’ early years in the northern states.

Grove, Frederick Philip. Settlers of the Marsh. Swedish settlers come to southern Manitoba. Grove also wrote Fruits of the earth, Over Prairie Trails, A Search for America and others. His first book was banned for a while because it was considered too explicit.

Lagnado, Lucette.  The Man in the White  Sharkskin Suit. A Jewish family leaves Cairo for the New World. In  this memoir the  main character  never quite makes the transition from being somebody in Cairo  to being nobody in America.

Luxenberg, Steve. Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret. A memoir about a Russian Jewish family and the terrible secret they kept hidden while living in Detroit during the Depression, a secret that might have prevented their entering America. 

See, Lisa. Shanghai Girls. A historical novel about the difficulties faced by Chinese to gain entrance to America. It describes  the reality of a “nightmarish immigrant experience.”

Toepfer, Amy Brungardt. Conquering the Wind. A saga of the Volga Germans who settled in Western Kansas in the mid 1870s. This book was banned for a while because it was considered uncomplimentary  to the Volga Germans.

Wiebe, Rudy (no relative). Peace Shall Destroy Many. German-Russian Mennonites struggle to conquer the land and their fears of the outside culture in northern Saskatchewan. This novel almost destroyed the peace of a branch of the Mennonite church when first published. Now studied in Canadian schools as a classic.

Wiebe, Katie Funk. The Storekeeper’s Daughter: A Memoir.  The author shows the conflict between her German-Russian Mennonite immigrant parents’ culture and the new fascinating Canadian culture.

 Yen Mah, Adeline. Falling Leaves: The memoir of an unwanted Chinese daughter.  The author moves from Hong Kong to England and eventually to the United States to become a physician.

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