Lerch: A Story
Book review by by Edna Boardman, Bismarck, North Dakota
Urban, F.B. Gottlob Lerch: A Story. Translated by Ingesborg Wallner Smith. North Dakota State University Libraries, Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, Fargo, North Dakota, 2003.
When I picked up this book, I thought I was about to read a pioneer
narrative, but I soon found myself immersed in a delightful little
novel based on persons the author knew during the time of immigration
of German Russians to America. The introduction says that little
is known about the author, and that its old German script presented
daunting problems for the translators. Yet the details of the novel
ring true to common experience and it is a jewel both of history
and character development.
Gottlob Lerch, the main character, who hails from the Kuban region
on the Sea of Azov, comes to North Dakota via Canada because the
Canadians are a bit less persnickety about eye disease than are
the Americans. Having said the usual painful goodbyes and arming
himself with a book of sermons by his beloved Lutheran Pastor Rev
Bessermann, Lerch sets out to satisfy his number one obsession:
land. Once in North Dakota, he is careful of his money, but the
pressures are on him to build a barn (constructed of wood by professional
carpenters) and after that a house (quickly assembled of sod by
family and neighbors). Then he must spend more money on the church
and its inevitable chain of pastors, the much-longed-for son, and
the three daughters who must be clothed and later married off.
The author, with a wry sense of humor, weaves into the story the
Bible verses and aphorisms that guide Lerch¹s life, his ambivalence
about religion versus the practical, his relationship with his wife,
the adjustments to a freer culture, the hardships inflicted by the
plains, and the pattern of attitudes that existed within families
and among neighbors. A good read.
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