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Review of The Wisconsin Farm They Built: Tales of Family & Fortitude

  • Fri, June 23, 2023 9:09 PM
    Message # 13219317

    Title: The Wisconsin Farm They Built: Tales of Family & Fortitude

    Author: Corey A. Geiger

    Genre: Narrative Nonfiction

    Publisher: The History Press, Charleston, SC, 2023

    Reviewed by Victoria Lynn Smith

    Review of The Wisconsin Farm They Built: Tales of Family & Fortitude

    The Wisconsin Farm They Built: Tales of Family & Fortitude by Corey A. Geiger is a wonderfully written and highly engaging narrative nonfiction book. Covering the 1930s through the 1980s, Geiger skillfully weaves stories about his grandparents Elmer and Julia Pritzl and their life as small-scale farmers together with fascinating histories about Wisconsin farming.

    In 1932, Elmer is fifteen years old when his mother dies in a tragic accident and his life is forever changed. Elmer’s intelligence, problem-solving skills, and outstanding grades had impressed his mother, teachers, and employers, many of whom wanted him to attend college. However, the Great Depression grips the nation, Elmer’s mother is dead, and his father has a drinking problem. Furthermore, the social safety nets that could have helped do not yet exist, so Elmer skips college and works in a foundry to help support the family. In 1938, Elmer falls in love and marries Julia Burich. Soon after his wedding, Elmer’s widowed mother-in-law asks him to run her farm, a request Elmer both gratefully and kindly accepts. And so begins the story of Elmer Pritzl, who lives both an ordinary and extraordinary life at the same time. Because of Geiger’s remarkable storytelling, readers come to know Elmer and Julia and understand the determination, kindness, intelligence, and work ethic it takes to be successful farmers.

    Interspersed with the “tales of family and fortitude,” Geiger also provides well-researched historical information about farmer’s fairs and co-ops, farming practices, tractors, fence laws, and hunting safety, among others. With the same attention to excellent research, Geiger also recounts the histories of businesses that were important to farmers as they went about their daily chores. For example, readers learn about companies like the world-famous Allis Chalmers Corporation, which produced large commercial engines and tractors; and A.H. Rusch & Son, a beekeeping supply company with international customers. In chapter 22 “Three Longs and a Short,” Geiger tells an amusing story about the fiancé of one of Elmer and Julia’s daughters as he tried to place a long-distance call from New York City to his betrothed in Rockland Township. Readers will chuckle and commiserate when the fiancé is caught in the middle as modern telephone technology meets the old-time party-line system of the Rockland Telephone Company in Wisconsin.

    Growing up, Geiger, the grandson of Elmer and Julia, spent many hours on their farm. Sometimes he worked alongside his grandparents, and he also listened to their oft-told stories. Readers benefit from Geiger’s firsthand knowledge about his grandparents and their families, his own experience as a farmer, and his exceptional research. Geiger includes a comprehensive bibliography at the end of his book, a testimony to his thorough research and handy for anyone wishing to delve deeper into the historical events he covers. Readers will also enjoy the extensive and illustrative collection of photographs featured in the book.

    If you hold Corey A. Geiger’s book, The Wisconsin Farm They Built, in your hands, it has a weight to it that impresses, and its pages are sturdy. It’s substantial, like an object of quality, which is fitting because Geiger treats his readers to a well-crafted, organized narrative with strong prose, in which Elmer and Julia Pritzl, their family, and the farmer’s world come to life.

    Reviewer Victoria Lynn Smith writes short stories and essays. In 2022, her short story "Maginot Line," won second place in the Hal Prize Contest for fiction. She has been published by Brevity Blog, Wisconsin Public Radio, Hive Literary Journal, Persimmon Tree, Jenny, 45th Parallel, Mason Street Review, and Rathalla Review. In 2022, she earned an honorable mention for nonfiction in the Jade Ring writing contest. She's working on a collection of short stories, and she enjoys writing her blog at Writing Near the Lake. She recently attended her first writer’s residency at Write On, Door County. She is a member of Wisconsin Writers Association, Lake Superior Writers, Red Oak Writing, Write On, Door County, and Writers Alliance of Gainesville.

    Last modified: Sat, June 24, 2023 7:24 AM | Victoria Lynn Smith

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