A Selection of Barnes & Noble Recommends
A vividly etched portrayal of an isolated midwestern community knotted together in strife.
Dark family secrets, savage acts of violence, and simmering resentments surface in this auspicious fiction debut. For several generations before, during, and after World War I, the Richters and Sutters of New Germany, Minnesota, have lived beside one another, their lives strangely and tragically intertwined. Estranged from their more assimilated neighbors, these ingrown old-world families have shared one another's company and punished one another for their unspeakable misdeeds. Nicole Helget's debut novel resonates with the atmosphere of haunting European folklore and the immediacy of characters you can't forget.
A rural Minnesota town struggling through change before, during and after WWI forms the background for this emotional tale of star-crossed love, vengeance and regret. Liesel, the only girl in a family of men, lives an isolated life on a farm due to her secret identity as a hermaphrodite. Her loneliness is lessened by her friendship with Lester, her mentally challenged neighbor, but when Lester discovers Liesel's secret, Liesel incites her brothers to exact a vicious revenge on him. As the novel skips back and forth through time in elliptical vignettes, Helget illustrates how tensions between the town's German residents, including Liesel, and their more assimilated neighbors eventually boil over into anger and violence as sides are chosen and families are pulled apart. Helget establishes the setting beautifully, pulling the reader immediately into the social milieu of the small town, and even if her prose can veer into preciousness, the novel is, on balance, melancholy but enjoyable. (Feb.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In this engrossing first novel, Minnesota memoirist Helget (The Summer of Ordinary Ways) draws on the legacy of her home state's late 19th-century, early 20th-century immigrant past. Yet this story, set in New Germany, MN, also contains the echoes of a haunting folktale. German native Wilhem Richter and newcomer Magdelena Schultz marry and have five children: Benjamin, Herman, Luther, Liesel, and Otto. Wilhelm prospers as a landowner/farmer and from investments in the old country; personally, however, he suffers a despairing loss while persevering under resentment from less successful neighbors. One of these neighboring families, the Sutters, has a son, Lester, and a daughter, Pernilla, who become tragically intertwined with the Richters. A good amount of this novel focuses on the unfolding destinies of several Richter family members, including Herman, Luther, and Liesel. Liesel especially carries much of the story with the depth of her needs and shame. From her doomed relationship with dim-witted Lester Sutter to her struggle to maintain a place within her own family, Liesel is a character readers won't soon forget. Strongly recommended for all public libraries.
In a dark, sometimes lurid debut, misdeeds and guilt shape the conjoined fates of two feuding families in Minnesota. Death, deformity and derangement are only part of the story; this gothic first novel also ropes in incest, physical abuse and mental disability, not to mention ghosts, spirits and cross-dressing uncles. Set in New Germany, a rural, midwestern outpost with strong roots in Germany, it spans the late 1890s to the 1920s through several generations of the Richters and the Sutters. Wilhelm Richter marries recent Bavarian immigrant Maggie unaware that she is pregnant by her Jewish lover, a secret which both burdens Maggie and convinces her, when her daughter Liesel is born with a "strange organ" at her genitals, that her sin has been made flesh. Pa Sutter, meanwhile, probably beat his wife to death, may have impregnated his daughter Pernilla and certainly assaulted his son Lester badly enough to damage his brain. Maggie dies in childbirth, leaving Liesel to look after her four brothers: Herman, Benjamin, Luther and Otto. The advent of World War I divides New Germany between those still allied to their German roots and those who feel American. Sutter and his cohorts attack anti-war Richter, tar him and burn down his barn, killing Pernilla and Luther in the process. Herman enlists, loses an arm in the war and returns half-crazed by his own battlefield sins. The darkness continues with murder and self-inflicted wounds until eventually there is a chance for atonement. An energetic, oddly shaped historical, lacking polish and control.