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Comment: Softcover, wear on edges, corners and cover, pages are clean
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Rachel Calof's Story: Jewish Homesteader on the Northern Plains Paperback – September 22, 1995

4.7 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1894, the 18-year-old Calof, a Russian Jew, was shipped to the U.S. to marry an unknown man and stake a homesteading claim with him in North Dakota. She later set down her memories of that time in fluid prose that occasionally reveals a biting sense of humor. Although her circumstances were often pathetic, Calof never is. She writes matter-of-factly about her 12'x 14' dirt-floored shanty, her husband's unappealing family and their unsanitary living arrangements. Each winter, her husband Abe's parents and brother would join them in their home in order to save fuel-an arrangement revealed only on her wedding day. There are pleasurable moments here too, like an impromptu supper of wild garlic and mushrooms (Calof does a taste test to see whether they are poisonous-"It didn't burn or taste bad, so I swallowed it"). Childbearing is particularly difficult: Calof seems to be constantly pregnant, and her superstitious mother-in-law keeps her secluded after the birth of her first child until she begins to hallucinate about demons. An epilogue by Calof's son, Jacob, picks up the courageous author's story in St. Paul, Minn., in 1917, while an essay by J. Sanford Rikoon on the phenomenon of Jewish farm settlements provides fascinating background.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Although Calof published her life story in 1936, it deals mostly with her time on the prairie between 1894 and 1904 and the hardships she encountered.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press (September 22, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0253209862
  • ISBN-13: 978-0253209863
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,321 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Carole Barkley on January 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book has several parts, the most important of which is "My Story," by Rachel Bella Calof. This remarkable memoir was written in 1936, by a 60-year-old woman who was recalling her early life, particularly her years as a homesteader in North Dakota at the turn of the century. She was not rich or famous and would probably be the first to say she was just an ordinary person. But her story strikes one as extraordinary, indeed.
This is followed by an epilogue by her youngest son, Jacob Calof; and two essays from historians placing her story in context of the time it took place.
The best past is unquestionably Rachel Bella's own story.
The tale of one tragedy after another is punctuated by moments of beauty, joy, and tenderness. This is a woman whose hard life was a triumph over circumstances. It was constant source of amazement to this reader that she survived at all-let alone that her nine children, born and raised in primitive circumstances-also survived. It is a testimony to superior genetics and incredible strength of will.
It is also fascinating to read. The author's style is straightforward and unpretentious, but also shows evidence of the true storyteller: suspense, humor, romance, and wit. Personal relationships come alive as Calof describes herself, her family, and the people they met along the way. There are some times when we know that Calof is going to some lengths to soft-pedal the less than noble aspects of human nature, but we get the point.
The two sections written by scholars are academically dry and are simply as not interesting to read. However, they do contain some helpful background information.
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Format: Paperback
My family lived close to the Calof family as well as to the other Jewish settlers in this area. I remember my Father speaking about the settlement in nothing but the fondest terms, but he also discussed with us the hardships these people lived. Their cemetary was built on land that is owned by my uncles family.I read this book ,therefore, with knowledge of the history of the settlement..I can only say, talk about history becoming alive. this is one of the rare true stories of courage,love, faith and determination that we as lovers of our nations heritage will have the priviledge of reading. It is completely absorbing and I feel that it would make a wonderful production for a movie or theatical event. Read this story, It by passes any fictional story for reading ,this is how the west was settled. Some people had great success but many, many, had to strive to keep hope and life alive.
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By A Customer on April 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
For the last 26 years I have taught American History at the high school and college levels. I have read hundreds of history books on a variety of subjects over the years. Rarely have a found a book that is revealing as this one. This short, very descriptive and moving book is exactly what students should be reading if they want to learn about history. To those who think history is boirng, I say--read this book! It tells more about life in the West than books five times its size.
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By A Customer on February 6, 1999
Format: Paperback
Rachel Calof's spellbinding narrative gives a rarely seen view of life on the frontier. In her story there are no cowboys, Indians, or saloons. Instead, she recounts battles with the harsh winters, crops, family, and privacy, giving the modern world a realistic view of life in the `Wild West.' Calof's style is incredibly powerful - her simple, matter of fact narration not only gives the reader a new perspective on frontier life but also moves one emotionally. Her emotions are so raw and intense, one finds oneself sharing Calof's anger, tears, and joy. Historically, Calof's novel has much merit, it is not often that one hears about Jewish or female settlers on the frontier. This realistic glimpse of existence on the frontier brings the hardships and trials of the early settlers to life. Besides giving a clear historical perspective, Calof's narrative gives the reader an important message. Calof teaches the reader that if one wants to improve one's life, or reach a goal, one must work hard and patiently for it, and never give up. As a whole, Rachel Calof's Story is truly both a historical and literary treasure, and as Rachel Calof teaches us in her own words, "if you love the living of life you must know the journey was well worth it," and through Calof's book, readers are able to understand both the hardships and the joys of the long American journey westward.
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By A Customer on October 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
On finishing Rachel Calof's autobiography, the reader should spontaneously count his blessings, regardless of current circumstance. Virtually forced to enter a marriage arranged in her Russian homeland, Calof survives a brutal pioneer existence on the featureless prairie near Devils Lake, North Dakota while bearing child after child.
The brief memoir could easily be assigned to high school or college students. A short afterward by the translator, Calof's youngest son, completes her story, and an essay by the editor, J. Sanford Rikoon, sets the experience of Jewish pioneers in North Dakota in historical perspective. The other academic essay included is of no value.
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By A Customer on April 27, 1997
Format: Hardcover
This is one of my favorite books.

It's the true story (in her own words) of Rachel,
an impoverished young Russian Jewish woman who was
abandoned by her family and came to the US in
the late 1800s for an arranged marriage to another
poor Jewish immigrant. Together they became
homesteaders in the bleak midwest, where they
forged a life and created a large family while
braving harsh winters in dire poverty. Rachel and
her husband had no privacy, as his parents shared
their tiny, one-room shack for a large part of
every year. Rachel's writing is unsentimental
and very moving. I wish someone would make
a movie of this book.
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