The Prairie Woman Who Lost Her Way and the Great-Granddaughter Who Found Her
by Erika Bolstad
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Pub Date 17 Jan 2023 | Archive Date 24 Jan 2023
SOURCEBOOKS (non-fiction), Sourcebooks
Beneath the windswept North Dakota plains, riches await...
At first, Erika Bolstad knew only one thing about her great-grandmother, Anna: she was a homesteader on the North Dakota prairies in the early 1900s before her husband committed her to an asylum under mysterious circumstances. As Erika's mother was dying, she revealed more. Their family still owned the mineral rights to Anna's land—and oil companies were interested in the black gold beneath the prairies. Their family, Erika learned, could get rich thanks to the legacy of a woman nearly lost to history.
Anna left no letters or journals, and very few photographs of her had survived. But Erika was drawn to the young woman who never walked free of the asylum that imprisoned her. As a journalist well versed in the effects of fossil fuels on climate change, Erika felt the dissonance of what she knew and the barely-acknowledged whisper that had followed her family across the Great Plains for generations: we could be rich. Desperate to learn more about her great-grandmother and the oil industry that changed the face of the American West forever, Erika set out for North Dakota to unearth what she could of the past. What she discovers is a land of boom-and-bust cycles and families trying their best to eke out a living in an unforgiving landscape, bringing to life the ever-present American question: What does it mean to be rich?
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 37 members
Many, many thanks to Sourcebooks for providing an advanced copy of this important story.
I wanted to read this book because of the genealogy mystery which inspired it. Bolstad goes in search of what happened to her great grandmother, family lore being she was a homesteader who married, had a baby, and then disappeared. What really happened is exceedingly tragic, and illustrates the fate of many women in thee 19th century as well as the misogyny which still exists today, albeit more subtle.
But I also found a tale of paradox: the way small communities makes decisions to uplift their living standards, with the price of destroying their environs and contributing to the destruction of the planet via climate change. So this is a story of fossil fuel capturing (and wasting), and what it does to everyone. There's the corporate greed, of course, but more importantly there's the natural human component of eagerness to have a "windfall," and what that windfall becomes.
Bolstad clearly did lots of research, put a lot of miles on her car, and talked to tons of experts in the eight years it took her to write this, all begun with an oil lease and inheritance of a piece of land in North Dakota. The 3 boom/busts of the state are featured, along with what happened to the communities in them, and how human memory is transient, with lessons learned forgotten with another promise of windfall.
It is a necessary story to read, with many questions to answer, and I was glad to see that the published book will include reading guide questions, as this is perfect for a serious book club. For women, our stories could all be Anna's (Bolstad's great grandmother), Bolstad's father's, and even Bolstad herself.
I absolutely loved what she decided to do in the end, and I ached with her as she and her husband pursued pregnancy, with failure after failure. I hope at some point they asked themselves whether they wanted to be pregnant or be parents, because their infertility journey is as tragic as Anna's short life.
HIGHLY HIGHLY RECOMENDED!!!
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