Author: Russell Hill and Jeffrey Smith
Publisher: Lempi Publishing and Jeffrey Smith
Type of book: Minessota, Twin Cities, immigrants from Finland Native Americans, 1890s, iron, hardship, women, daily life
Year it was published: 2014
Here is the highly readable account of one of the remarkable achievements of the 19th century: how a remote tree-covered area of northern Minnesota became America's greatest source of iron ore. It is 1891. An improbable team of American businessmen and European immigrants hunt for iron ore in a formidable expanse of dense pine forest. Fighting isolation, harsh winters, and mosquito-infested summers, they find it. What follows is an extraordinary tale of both personal and technological achievement. Mesabi Pioneer s brings the pursuit of iron ore to vivid life, illuminating the men and women mostly forgotten by history, who built an industry, carved towns from trees, and created a rich culture that lasts to this day.
Main characters include Arthur Maki (Arvid Makula), a young and talented carpenter who came from Finland to America and did his best to survive and make something of himself. He is industrious, holds on tightly to traditions and seems to have clear perspective on life and things. He is a bit gullible and hates prejudice and tries to make friends out of people who are seen as outcasts. Another main character is Charlie who is Native American and is from Chippewa culture. Charlie suffered through a school where his culture and everything that made him him was wiped away, he is also talented at hunting and is seen as a "savage" or an outsider by the group. He is very intelligent and tries to hold on to whatever he can. He is also loyal and will do whatever he can for those he considers friends. There is also the cook, Housell who was also with the group from the very beginning and he is best described as observant and a drunk who happens to be prejudiced and hated by Arthur and few others. There are other characters too, but I feel that their roles aren't as big in Arthur's life as they should have been.
Risk is worth it
I have to say that the telling is a little bit confusing, but perhaps ninety eight percent of the book is written in third person narrative from Arthur (Arvid's) point of view, while two percent comes from one of his descendants. Ten of the chapters have foreign titles, and the reader learns of their meanings as they begin to read each chapter. I did have a hard time keeping track of time because I thought the story started in 1891 and stretched on to 1894? when in fact it began in 1889? and stretched to 1892. Huge stretches of time passed with chapters, but that made the story more interesting. Also, this isn't an action oriented story, but resembles more of Willa Cather and Sarah Orne Jewett except its much shorter and it has enough stories to keep it interesting. What was also cool is that I learned a lot more about Finnish and Russian cultures of back then.
Buy the Book
This is definitely one of the more unusual books I had a chance of reading. Pretty much almost all the fiction I've read always contained a love story of sorts, yet Mesabi Pioneers doesn't have a love story, and instead it discusses struggles that the immigrants from different countries have faced in order to survive and prosper in Minnesota. I have to say that the name 'Silver Lake' and Minnesota really strongly reminded me of Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House books, but this book is more of ins and outs of a world that Laura Ingalls Wilder hinted at. Its a clean read, but this world isn't something that Laura Ingalls Wilder would touch or talk about. (Her books are very homogeneous and didn't have the "undesirable" influences that this one has.) What is also pretty fascinating are the comparisons between Native American Chippewa culture and the Finnish culture and how no matter where we come from, we are more alike than different.
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4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)