Official Review: Dear American Brother by Joe J. Elder

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Miriam Molina
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Official Review: Dear American Brother by Joe J. Elder

Post by Miriam Molina » 13 Jan 2019, 22:52

[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of "Dear American Brother" by Joe J. Elder.]
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3 out of 4 stars
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Dear American Brother, a novel based on a true story, is an agonizing read. Many pages are a study in horror. What evil humans can do to other humans is beyond imagination. How can humans be so utterly inhuman?

Hans Gerein, the principal character, narrates the story spanning the years 1914 to 1945. These were 31 years of hardship upon hardship as his German village of Chornov in South Russia underwent the trials of World War I, the Bolshevik Regime, and World War II. We usually look at the Germans as the villains of the World Wars. Here is proof that even Germans were helpless victims, particularly the descendants of the German colonists who settled in the Kutschurgan area in South Russia.

Hans, Loni (his older sister), and Kurt (his older brother) lived normal lives with their family and their neighbors, farmers mostly. They had strong neighborhood camaraderie, attended the Catholic church, and generally lived well. Then, World War I broke out. Kurt joined their Uncle Pius’s family when they moved to America; the plan was for the rest of the clan to follow. Meanwhile, with the able adult males conscripted to fight the invading Germans, 11-year-old Hans was forced to grow up and take adult responsibilities under his Grandpa Wilhelm’s supervision.

The Bolsheviks ousted the Germans in 1917, and communism was instituted: Religion was banned. All their landholdings were pooled. All produce was turned over to the government. The Cause was supposed to treat everyone equally. It succeeded in that all, save for the Russian guards, equally starved and worked to the bone.

In 1941, Hitler arrived as their savior; starvation was over. However, the villagers’ woes did not end. In 1945, the Soviet Army returned to wreak revenge on the German-Russians. In their flight to Germany, Hans and his daughter Ami got separated.

Through the 31 years, Hans and Kurt continued communicating; however, silent years had to intervene owing to the cruel regimes. Will Hans reunite with Ami? Will he ever fulfill his American dream?

War is bad. I believe that is an irrefutable fact, but the Gereins in Chornov lived harrowing lives even during the time of supposed peace.

Joe J. Elder, himself a German descendant, wrote this story to honor his grandmother, a player in that besieged era. The book blends history with the fictional tale of the Gerein family. While Kurt is shown living a good life in America, his brother Hans’s travails appear in stark contrast. Elder paints the excruciating picture with striking vividness, making me stop reading many times to collect myself.

The scattering of German and Russian words succeeds in heightening the realism. Though many of the words are understandable from the context, including a glossary will ensure that the reader interprets the words correctly. The titles used for the chapters are usually quoted from the characters; these make the reader connect to the characters and act as effective summaries of the chapters.

I want this book experienced by many: people who know nothing about those devastating events which rocked the world and people whose families continue to suffer the effects of those events. It will not be a pleasant read, I can assure you. Those who are sensitive to gore may opt out. However, this is a book that will open eyes and touch hearts in many ways.

I would be remiss if I don’t mention that there are light and shining moments, too. We get to read about German traditions relating to courtship, weddings, Christmas, and community life. We see what great sacrifices parents can do for their children, how the love of family makes hardship bearable, how faith keeps hope alive, and how music and humor alleviate times of despair.

I rate the book 3 out of 4 stars. While I wholeheartedly recommend it, I cannot turn a blind eye to the editing issues in its pages. The one-star deduction is for the numerous grammar slips, mostly run-on sentences and bad punctuation. Joe Elder should wipe out these errors to make this book stand out. It should belong to every family’s library as a reminder of human cruelty and of the comforting balm of faith, family, and friendship.

******
Dear American Brother
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Post by kandscreeley » 15 Jan 2019, 09:22

Wow! This one sounds completely emotional. It's stories like this that are extremely hard to read, but I do feel that they are necessary. I really have to put this one on my list, though I do wonder if it will take me a bit longer to read than normal because of the realistic nature of the book. Thanks.
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Post by Miriam Molina » 15 Jan 2019, 09:45

kandscreeley wrote:
15 Jan 2019, 09:22
Wow! This one sounds completely emotional. It's stories like this that are extremely hard to read, but I do feel that they are necessary. I really have to put this one on my list, though I do wonder if it will take me a bit longer to read than normal because of the realistic nature of the book. Thanks.
Yes, it was a painful read. But I am glad to have experienced it. Those were hard years. Let's pray they don't happen again.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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Post by Cecilia_L » 15 Jan 2019, 13:14

Though I tend to steer away from such weighty emotional content, I appreciate your informative review.

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Post by Miriam Molina » 15 Jan 2019, 14:04

Cecilia_L wrote:
15 Jan 2019, 13:14
Though I tend to steer away from such weighty emotional content, I appreciate your informative review.
I remember being horrified while reading "Survival in Auschwitz"; this book has the same impact. I can understand your decision to shun such reads.

Thanks for the visit.

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Post by Jessacardinal » 15 Jan 2019, 14:10

This topic always interests me, as I have direct descendants who survived this time.
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Post by Miriam Molina » 15 Jan 2019, 14:37

Jessacardinal wrote:
15 Jan 2019, 14:10
This topic always interests me, as I have direct descendants who survived this time.
I am sure you will be able to relate to the story. May your family never face such horrors again.

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Post by Jessacardinal » 15 Jan 2019, 14:47

Miriam Molina wrote:
15 Jan 2019, 14:37
Jessacardinal wrote:
15 Jan 2019, 14:10
This topic always interests me, as I have direct descendants who survived this time.
I am sure you will be able to relate to the story. May your family never face such horrors again.
May NO family ever face such a horror ever again! I am so thankful I never directly experienced anything like this.
"Let's be reasonable and add an eighth day to the week that is devoted exclusively to reading." - Lena Dunham

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Miriam Molina
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Post by Miriam Molina » 15 Jan 2019, 14:58

Jessacardinal wrote:
15 Jan 2019, 14:47

May NO family ever face such a horror ever again! I am so thankful I never directly experienced anything like this.
I stand corrected. You are so right. Nobody deserves such human-inflicted sufferings.

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Post by ButterscotchCherrie » 15 Jan 2019, 16:25

I have heard of the "Volga Deutsche" - some of them came to Germany after reunification. The period of this book was, of course, a harrowing one for the writer's ancestors. You capture the horrors well, but thanks for also mentioning the lighter parts. It's amazing how positive humans can be despite horrendous external circumstances. Thanks for a detailed review!

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Post by Nyambura Githui » 15 Jan 2019, 16:33

War causes a lot of pain and suffering, I wouldn't wish that to anyone. I do love reading about historical events even if it's fictional. I'll definitely add this to my list. Great review

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Post by Miriam Molina » 15 Jan 2019, 18:34

ButterscotchCherrie wrote:
15 Jan 2019, 16:25
I have heard of the "Volga Deutsche" - some of them came to Germany after reunification. The period of this book was, of course, a harrowing one for the writer's ancestors. You capture the horrors well, but thanks for also mentioning the lighter parts. It's amazing how positive humans can be despite horrendous external circumstances. Thanks for a detailed review!
Thanks, Alice. It was, indeed, a difficult time for the Kutschurgan colonists. They were German-Russians; they had to fight the Germans in WWI, then the Russians during the communist regime until Gorbachev's time. I salute those men and women for surviving those harrowing times.

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Post by Miriam Molina » 15 Jan 2019, 18:41

Nyambura Githui wrote:
15 Jan 2019, 16:33
War causes a lot of pain and suffering, I wouldn't wish that to anyone. I do love reading about historical events even if it's fictional. I'll definitely add this to my list. Great review
While Hans's story is fictional, all the tragic events in the book happened in real life. We are lucky to have been spared those horrors.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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Post by kdstrack » 16 Jan 2019, 22:20

This sounds like very heavy material. I congratulate on your sensitive and thoughtful review. Your words remind us that we need to learn history so as not to repeat the same errors. This is a must-read! Thanks for your excellent writing!

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Post by T_stone » 17 Jan 2019, 06:16

This sounds like a very emotional and heart wrenching book. I don't think this is the right book for me at this time as a childhood friend of mine lost her hubby yesterday. I'm all in my feelings now. However, this is a great summary. Kudos
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