Top critical review
Glad I Read It, But It Was Not Easy to Finish.
Reviewed in the United States on April 1, 2019
To live on the prairie was a hard life for European settlers in the 1880’s. After reading this book, I have nothing but admiration for these hearty folks. The Homestead Act spurred many Europeans to move to the prairie, but they were unprepared for the realities of farm life there. Unbearable cold waves plagued the area. When people went missing in storms, families did not know for days what happened to their relatives. Life on the prairie was particularly hard on women, who often had to raise their families in sod houses with few amenities. The author, David Laskin, presents these hardships clearly and opens our eyes to what it is to live through one of the deadliest storms in history, but he does not make us care about the victims as deeply as we should.
I did not become emotionally invested in the family stories because the author includes too many people. I got lost in the shuffle of characters. Equally problematic, his structure presents the family stories in fragments that are difficult to piece together: Which lost child belonged to which family? It is difficult to feel empathy for the victims when I couldn’t remember who they were. Moreover, the detailed weather station sub-stories go on far too long. Although some of the sections on the in-fighting and early science of meteorology are fascinating, other sections include too many facts (e.g. cities, temperatures and statistics) and weathermen. Because of the overly-detailed nature of the book, the narrative would certainly benefit from some maps, charts and photos. By the end, I learned a lot about one of the deadliest blizzards on the continent, but I skipped over huge sections of what I felt was dry, mind-numbing information. Glad I read it, but it was not easy to finish.