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The Last of the Blacksmiths
     

The Last of the Blacksmiths

4.0 1
by Claire Gebben
 

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Michael Harm is a farmer's son in the Bavarian Rhineland who dreams of excitement and freedom-the sort of life enjoyed by Uncas, the hero in his favorite novel, The Last of the Mohicans. Every day Michael toils beside his brother in the vineyards wishing he could be a blacksmith, a singer, or an adventurer. One day the Harm family receives a letter from America

Overview

Michael Harm is a farmer's son in the Bavarian Rhineland who dreams of excitement and freedom-the sort of life enjoyed by Uncas, the hero in his favorite novel, The Last of the Mohicans. Every day Michael toils beside his brother in the vineyards wishing he could be a blacksmith, a singer, or an adventurer. One day the Harm family receives a letter from America offering a blacksmithing apprenticeship in a relative's Cleveland, Ohio wagon-making shop to the eldest son. Michael begs to take his brother's place, and at age fifteen, leaves his family behind for America. On a storm-tossed Atlantic crossing, he meets Charles Rauch, the son of a Cleveland wagon-maker, his future rival in carriage-making and love. Michael arrives in an America he can barely comprehend, confronting riots in New York, anti-immigrant bigotry in Cleveland, and his uncle, a cruel blacksmith master. Michael struggles through his indenture, inspired by rags-to-riches stories such as that of presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln. He receives his freedom dues just as war threatens to destroy the country he now calls home. It is not the Civil War, but Cleveland's post-war Gilded Age, that forces Michael to face his greatest challenge-an accelerating machine age destined to wipe out his livelihood forever. Populated by characters both historical and invented, The Last of the Blacksmiths is a tale of the disruption and dispersal of an immigrant family, the twilight of the artisan crafts, and the efforts of each generation to shape its destiny.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Claire Gebben writes with clear, concise prose. The historical material enhances her story…. Her characters are well-developed with both virtues and foibles. This is a more or less true story that has been pieced together from a transatlantic correspondence over the generations." --Historical Novel Society

"This is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of historical fiction.... Kudos to Claire Gebben for making genealogy and fiction work so well together!" --Eleanor L. Turk, Yearbook of German American Studies, Spring 2015

The Last of the Blacksmiths' story begins in Germany in 1857 and travels to Cleveland, Ohio ending in 1910. It's an intimately detailed story in which readers viscerally feel what it was like to be alive during the late 1800s. Rich in details, readers explore the thoughts of the German-born people living during America's western migration, early industrial era, and its pre- through post-civil war times.

The story focuses on Michael Harm, a dreamer stuck on his father's farm in which he has no interest. Forever not quite measuring up to the family's expectations, he doubts himself. But at fifteen he travels to America to follow his dream of becoming a blacksmith. We join in his life's challenges as he forges his new life.

"Throughout the winding journey, I kept my eyes pasted on the countryside, the clusters of half-timbered houses tied like knots of yarn on a quilt of green velvet. How ancient this landscape seemed…"

Author Claire Gebben weaves beautifully layered descriptions bringing a depth to the story. "Throughout the winding journey, I kept my eyes pasted on the countryside, the clusters of half-timbered houses tied like knots of yarn on a quilt of green velvet. How ancient this landscape seemed…" She carved the story from original letters written between families living in America and Germany as well as stories from the letter writers' decedents. Gebben writes from the heart.

Susan Roberts, San Francisco Book Review, March 11, 2014

"The writing quality is superb, the historical and geographic detail utterly convincing, the characters well-drawn, and the dialogue persuasive … Claire Gebben has extraordinary promise. Her prose is quite brilliant; I fully lived within her world."

--William Dietrich, Pulitzer-Prize winning author

"A thoughtful and often poignant look at the struggles of immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century, and which are very likely familiar to immigrants today. Kudos to Ms. Gebben for allowing her imagination to take flight and delivering a heartfelt story that is both enlightening and entertaining." Read more ….

--Charlotte Morganti, Morganti Write Blog

"Claire Gebben delivers an unforgettable narrator, an intimate glimpse of the immigrant experience, and an ultimately uplifting story."

--Ana Maria Spagna, author of Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus

"Meticulously researched and lovingly written. Claire Gebben's new novel is both intimate and epic, following one immigrant's journey to America but representative of the journeys of millions."

--Lawrence Coates, author of The Garden of the World

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781603811828
Publisher:
Coffeetown Enterprises, Inc.
Publication date:
02/15/2014
Pages:
354
Sales rank:
1,207,298
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.74(d)

Read an Excerpt


The mood of the mob shifted, the cheers turning to hisses and snarls. People began running for cover, calling out with hoarse shouts, diving into doorways and behind barrels. Others appeared in the windows of the buildings, shaking their fists at something farther up the street. Silhouettes of men appeared on the rooftops, sticks or clubs--or rifles--in their hands. Alarm turning to terror, I retreated the way I had come.

But I didn't get far. Objects began to rain from the sky--rocks, furniture, buckets of slop. Near me, a brick thunked a man on his shoulder. He cried out, spun in a circle to see what had hit him, then collapsed. Afraid to go on, I pressed back against a building. Before me, a farmer and his wagon had become trapped by the crowd. His horse was growing agitated, rearing back and snorting in distress. In the back of the farmer's wagon were two enormous hogs.

The farmer stood and shouted to clear the way, but no one paid him any mind. Then a group of young men noticed him, and one tried to climb up on the seat. The farmer pushed the ruffian off, but two others clambered up from behind, lifting the man up under his arms and dumping him over the side. The horse whinnied and bucked. Hands reached up to unfasten its harness. Horse and wagon separated, the mob heaved the wagon over on its side. As the wagon tipped, the hogs spilled to the ground with great squeals, struggled to their feet and barreled off, knocking several people down in the crowd.

Around the overturned cart, men and women were piling barrels and crates to form a makeshift barrier. The horse continued to rear and buck, its eyes white with terror. A gunshot rang out. The horse dropped to its forelegs with a groan, then lay full out on the ground.

The gunshot woke me from my stupor and I ran, arms over my head, praying to God no brick would drop from the sky to end my life. As I fled from the melee, a few ruffians jostled past me, their arms loaded with bricks and stones. I could not believe anyone would run into that riot. Did freedom drive men mad?

I reached the street with the iron rails, but the street sign said Bowery. What happened to Chatham Street? Frightened out of my wits, I dashed blindly ahead, weaving and dodging the other pedestrians, not slowing until my breath came in huffs and a stitch dug into my side.

Coming to myself, I halted at last at a wide intersection with a fountain in the center. This was a fashionable district unlike anything Franz had described, the paving stones swept clean, the couples and families dressed in fine new clothes, carrying baskets and parasols.

I realized the worst had come to pass. I was lost, and had no idea of my way back.

Meet the Author


Claire Gebben was born and raised on the southeast side of Cleveland in Moreland Hills, Ohio. She's of German and Scottish descent, but the German side of my family were more meticulous record-keepers. In 1980 she earned a BA in Psychology from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along with her husband, she moved seven times in seven years, living in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Cleveland, and Buffalo before landing in Seattle, Washington. She's worked as a resource center manager, newspaper columnist, newsletter editor, ghostwriter, in desktop publishing, multi-media, and communications, all the while raising a family and pursuing her first love of reading and writing. In 2011, she earned an MFA in Creative Writing through the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts on Whidbey Island, Washington. Her writing has appeared in Shark Reef, The Speculative Edge, Soundings Review, The Fine Line, and ColumbiaKIDS e-zine. The Last of the Blacksmiths is her first novel. For more information, go to clairegebben.com.

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The Last of the Blacksmiths 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Claire Gebben has written a engrossing novel of not only her family history, but the history of German immigrants in the mid-1850s. As a descendent of Iowa farmer German immigrants, I found her story an interesting read. Well written, with strong characters and a steady flow, Gebben has produced a compelling first novel.