A Home in America: A Volga German Story by Eunice Boeve, though listed as a Children’s/Young Adult book, would be of interest to readers of all ages. This work of fiction that takes place in 1892 captivated me as I learned about a whole segment of people I hadn’t previously known.
Although the book is primarily about the Mueller family as seen through the eyes of Eva Maria, age twelve, it delves into the Volga German people who, in the mid-1700’s, settled in Russia’s Volga River area to escape war-torn Germany and the unreasonable demands of the ruling class. Contrary to promises made to them by Russia, the Volga River area was devoid of houses, horses or plows. But there was land, and the Germans carved out a life on the Russian plains. They remained staunchly German, did not speak the Russian language, did not intermarry, and clung to their own customs and faith.
When Russia began imposing mandatory military service on all males between the ages of sixteen and forty-five, Eva’s parents made the decision to emigrate to America. If they remained in Russia, her father and older brother would likely be conscripted into a service for which they felt no loyalty.
Now in 1892, the family— father, stepmother, two older brothers, a baby sister, and Eva — is leaving the only home they have ever known. One of Eva’s concerns is leaving her great-grandmother, the woman who was like a mother to her, since her real mother passed away giving birth to Eva. But her great-grandmother is 92, blind and frail.
They have a cousin in America, in Kansas, and he helps them financially and promises to assist them when they arrive.
Their journey to the Baltic Sea is a grueling series of crowded, dirty trains and finally the extreme discomforts of riding third class in the bowels of a ship bound for America. Arriving in New York, they endure the immigration procedures at Ellis Island, and finally take another train to Kansas where they are welcomed by their cousin.
The rest of the story concentrates on their first year in America, living on a farm near Herzog, Kansas, a Volga-German community with other predominately Volga residents. The newcomers are challenged with the new language and new customs.
A Home in America is a heart-warming story with the strong loyalty of family uppermost. I gained renewed respect for America’s early settlers and with the importance of working together for a common good.