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One night my wife and I were on the road, staying in a hotel in I-don't-remember-where. I woke up in the middle of the night to find said wife missing. Happily, I saw a light under the bathroom door. There she is, I thought. I fell back asleep. I woke up again sometime later. It was still the middle of the night and that light was still on. Hmm.... What's up with that? I wonder if she's okay? I should check. So I got out of bed, lumbered over to the bathroom door, opened it and, well, there she sat. She was not, however, doing what one normally does in the bathroom (though I can't say what you normally do in a bathroom). Nope. She was sitting on the john (lid down!) reading The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin. "I just couldn't stop and I didn't want to wake you up."
So when I heard that David had a new book coming out—The Long Way Home. An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War (HarperCollins, 2010)—I jumped at the chance to read it and get him on the show. The book tells the stories of twelve Americans who immigrated from Europe to the US around 1900 and then returned to Europe to fight in the Great War for their newly-adopted country. It's a tale of poverty, hope, escape, new beginnings, disappointments, hard work (for low pay), patriotism, bravery, suffering, death and redemption all told in wonderfully crafted prose. Through the lives of these men and their families David allows us to witness "ethnics" (as they were called) adopting an American identity, and often at a heavy price. They literally fought for the right to be Americans. For those of us born in freedom, their bravery is a reminder of what freedom is worth. (I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but I actually believe it...)
19th Century, 20th Century, Artillery, Assimilation, Ellis Island, France, German Americans, Immigration, Irish Americans, Italian Americans, Jewish Americans, National Identity, Norwegian Americans, Polish Americans, Progressive Era, Shell Shock, Slovak Americans, Trenches, War, Working Class, World War I
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