There’s no short way to describe Bottomland – there are just too many sides to this story. Based on the life of the author’s grandmother, this fictionalized story begins in Iowa in the years after World War I. It is a story of rural farm life in the 1900’s, an immigrants story, a story about racism, a story about a WWI soldier who comes home with invisible yet life-changing wounds, and the story of a daughter who becomes the caretaker of her father and siblings. At its heart Bottomland is a family saga you won’t want to stop reading.
Rural life was not easy at the turn of the last century, especially for German immigrants like the Hess family. Julius and Margrit Hess were raising their six American-born children on a small farm in Iowa. As anti-German sentiment grew in the years before WWI, suspicions grew and neighbors began turning on neighbors. Margrit’s unexpected death, a brutal farm accident and WWI effect them all. But the Hess family stayed close, still living together on the 140 acre farm their parents staked on arriving in America. Until the night the two youngest daughters, 14 and 16 years old, vanish in the middle of the night without a trace. Did they run away? Were they abducted? You’ll have to read it to find out.
The story is told through the voices of 5 main characters, but in a very nonlinear way that requires careful reading – or for me re-reading, as each of the narrators have their own view of the events as they occur, and may or may not actually be reliable.
A June 10th discussion of Bottomland will be part of the 2017 Adult Summer Reading program. The discussion will be led by Glenn Ehrstine, UI Associate Professor of German and International Studies. Susan Craig, ICPL Director and member of the All Iowa Reads book selection committee, will give us a glimpse of how the All Iowa Reads books are selected each year.
For more information on All Iowa Reads go to the Iowa Center For The Book website.