Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Adelsverein: The Gathering

Adelsverein: The Gathering
by Celia HayesBook One of the Adelsverein Trilogy (Booklocker / 1-932-04517-1 / 978-1-932-04517-8 / December 2008 / 384 pages / $17.95 / Kindle $7.16) 

Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM

Note: The Gathering is the first book in The Adelsverein Trilogy. Dr. Past has read all three books in the trilogy, however, this review covers only volume one in detail. More information on Books One & Two follows this post.

Is there anything better than a good book? Better than a book that tells an absorbing story, that's peopled with characters you care about, living through exciting times, set among real events, and that leaves you with a better understanding as well as thoroughly entertained?

Of course there is something better: two books like that. And even better still, three. The Adelsverein Trilogy, by Celia Hayes, is such a trilogy. What The Leopard does for Italy and Gone With the Wind does for the American South, The Adelsverein Trilogy does for Texas, and does it in style.

Briefly, book one, The Gathering, recounts the adventures of the Steinmetz family as they and several other families emigrate from Germany in the 1840s to the wilds of Texas. The narrative generally follows one of the daughters, Magda Vogel, a spunky, engaging young woman, as the families endure an arduous sea voyage only to find themselves put ashore at a desolate spot on the Texas coast, to be led to an unprepared, disorganized, and under-funded German settlement area in the hill country (the "Adelsverein" of the title). On the way they happen upon a company of men under Jack Hays (later a renowned Texas Ranger), on their way to the Mexican War. Magda briefly meets one of his men, Carl "Dutch" Becker, one of the few survivors of the Goliad massacre, before her family resumes its trek to to New Braunfels. From there they travel to Friedrichsburg (modern-day Fredericksburg), and struggle to find shelter and make lives for themselves. Not to spoil things, let it simply be said that the rest of The Gathering brings the return of the wounded Carl Becker, the beginning of a business and farm for the Vogel/Steinmetz family, the wooing of Maggie by several appealing suitors, her eventual marriage, a cholera epidemic, and much more.

Book two, The Sowing, takes the family, friends, and community through the period leading up to the Civil War, then through the trying war years, to their painful conclusion. 

Book three, The Harvesting, sees the once-struggling settlements becoming towns and beginning to prosper. The extended Steinmetz family moves into a number of business ventures, enjoying successes despite the occasional disaster.

Taken all together, The Adelsverein Trilogy provides a terrifically enjoyable and satisfying read. The characters come alive immediately, and as the pages fly by we get to see them grow, mature, and deal with the joys and tribulations of life. We are left with a wonderfully complete picture of an era, and unforgettable memories of the engaging and sturdy families whose type formed the backbone of this nation.

Any person who's had history in school, (and paid attention) will know the basic events of the era, but probably not how those events were received in the Texas German hill country. The great strength of the trilogy is that we experience those events not on the battlefield or in distant places, but on the home front. We all read in class of generals, strategies, marching armies and blockades and battles and dates and so forth, but it's so much more compelling to live the events through the eyes of people we like, in person. However much we know today about the Civil War, to the Steinmetz family the news was minimal and late, and there were no guarantees of anything: disaster was an ever-present possibility. Random events could (and did) upset everything at any time. No matter what, the housework had to be done; the animals and crops had to be tended, and the family had to be raised. Such is life, and such is the power of literature. 

This is not to say that larger events are overlooked. The story gracefully works in encounters with Sam Houston, Jack Hays, early San Antonio, Austin, New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, Comanche raids, truce negotiations, agriculture, cattle drives, illnesses, 19th century medicine, the handling of firearms, race relations, business practices--the full context of daily life at the time. The author's historical accuracy is meticulous, her writing clean and true: she brings an entire era to marvelous life. If you don't know the Texas hill country, you will after you read The Adelsverein Trilogy. I thought I knew it, but the Texas hill country will never look the same to me now.
See Also: The Author's Website
The Adelsverein Wikipedia Page
Read an excerpt from The Gathering.

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