The Meaning of Names

Karen Gettert Shoemaker. Red Hen (CDC, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (232p) ISBN 978-1-59709-959-2
When President Wilson enters America into the first World War, the country’s wave of anti-German sentiment hits the town of Stuart, Neb., hard: the town is home to many German immigrants and descendants. Suddenly, “liberty cabbage” replaces “sauerkraut” on food menus, job advertisements warn “no krauts need apply,” and neighbors demand the nearby university stop teaching courses in “that vile language.” On account of his German last name, Fritz Vogel is denied exemption from the draft, despite his status as farmer and married father of four children with another on the way. His wife, Gerda, from whose perspective much of the novel is told, witnesses a terrible beating put upon a German man for allegedly “criticizing this great country.” The effects of religion also weave into the narrative: faith in “God’s healing hand” prevents patients from calling on county doctor Ed Gannoway until it’s too late; the new priest, Father Jungels, routinely bucks common sense; most importantly, Gerda’s father, who had protested her marriage, wanting her to join the convent instead, will never forgive her choice (“If you go […] you stay gone”). But after the appearance of a virus—whose destructive force challenges Gannoway’s powers of reason—the townspeople come together in unexpected ways. Shoemaker (Night Sounds and Other Stories) crafts eminently realistic characters; her descriptions of unreasonable fear and hatred are particularly effective. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 12/02/2013
Release date: 03/01/2014
Genre: Fiction
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