In an Author Wednesday interview with author Carol Brodensteiner, I asked her the best thing someone could say about her novel Go Away Home. She said, “I think the best thing someone could tell me is that they were touched by the characters and the story. That would mean they felt the story was well told, which was my goal in the first place. The second best thing is that they came away from the book knowing more about life in the early twentieth century.”
Go Away Home, Ms. Brodensteiner’s first novel, scores on both counts. The story touched me, and I learned a few things in the process.
The main character, Liddie, yearns for a life outside of her family’s Iowa farm as the novel opens in 1914. She’s sixteen and has yet to deal with life’s harsh realities. The novel’s coming of age theme isn’t old-fashioned despite its historical setting. The same universal characteristics apply whether a novel is set in the 1900s or 2000s. Liddie must come to terms with the world, not as black and white, but as shades of gray. It’s the same for everyone. Those who adapt can enjoy fulfilling lives no matter the circumstances.
I particularly enjoyed one of the messages in Go Away Home. If offers the encouragement to keep doing something no matter how dire life may seem. We can sit and do nothing, but if we do there’s no hope for anything miraculous to occur. Liddie must keep moving and doing things even when the most precious things in life have been taken from her. If she sits and does nothing, that’s exactly what will happen. I loved Liddie and her determination. Yet, Ms. Brodensteiner created a very real character in this woman. In one particular scene, Liddie has made a dire mistake with a lovely dress made for a client of the dress shop where she works. She prays no one will notice, but of course, the owner of the shop does. Liddie’s horror, fear, hope, and embarrassment are the emotions we all share in the same type of circumstances. It’s a brilliant piece of writing and characterization.
The novel’s setting of eastern rural Iowa during the years 1914 – 1919 sets the tone for Go Away Home. First, the farming life creates a tableau of innocence and simple pleasures. Fresh baked bread, gooey chocolate cake, cows bearing calves, and shirts sewn with fanciful embroidery seem romantic to us living in the twenty-first century. However, to Liddie and her family those were the everyday occurrences on the farm. The world of wars and suffragists intrudes into the drum beat of everyday living. Letter writing brings news of family far away, but with great gaps in time. This simple way of life confines Liddie—or so she thinks—until she goes out into the world and discovers that life in the city isn’t as satisfying as she thought. The sister who must leave home in shame when she becomes pregnant without the benefit of wedlock affects the entire family. It seems so silly now, but then it was considered the worst thing that could happen—until the worst thing does happen and then priorities must be rearranged.
Liddie hopes that women’s suffrage will bring freedom for her to choose how she wants to live her life. The draft at the beginning of the United States’ entry into World War I creates fear among the family, although no one close to them is drafted. Automobiles are beginning to appear, even on the farm. And the telephone is a novelty, but one that soon proves to be invaluable.
We believe that technologies are changing at a rapid speed now. Imagine what it must have been like to suddenly go from horse-powered transportation to a machine filled with gasoline. Or what it meant to suddenly be connected to someone living hours away through the black device on the wall. We have no idea what it must have been like in those days of discovery and invention. However, through novels such as Go Away Home, we learn about those times and how it must have been for our ancestors.
The research is impeccable in this novel. Ms. Brodensteiner has proven herself as an exceptional storyteller in her first novel. If you enjoy rich characters and historical fiction, you won’t be disappointed in Go Away Home.
Disclosure: I was provided with an Advanced Review copy of Go Away Home in exchange for an honest review.