Monday, July 2, 2012

Book Review: Bad Land: An American Romance by Jonathan Raban

This book has been on my radar since it was published in 1998, so yes, that's a very long time.

Mr. Raban goes to Montana and explores the promises that brought a generation of homesteaders to the state in the early 1900s, how their dreams worked out (badly, for as we know now, these poor souls were looking at the dust bowl and Great Depression in just a generation.) It was a little weird for me to figure out he was British. That was never mentioned directly, and instead I was left to figure it out when he frequently compared the scenery to England instead of, say, Iowa. It was odd not only to not have that addressed specifically, but to have a Brit writing about something so incredibly American.

But that said, it was a terrific book. He really captured the hope and optimism, while showing the marketing that was used to obscure the inevitable difficulties. It kept bringing me back to memories of The Little House books, of how hard and rewarding farming can be, and how the hope for the future can conquer any qualms. Mr. Raban's love of the region is palpable and his respect the for people is admirable. His writing is fluid and his descriptions are evocative. I do wish there was a photo section, not only of the geography, but of the people who lived there, and of the old photos he talks about finding, but also from the famous photographers who were in the area and documented the life.

Overall I did like the book a lot, while it left me wanting more (the images particularly) it mostly left me wanting to visit the region! I'd love to see the buttes and the badlands he's talking about. Anyone who's interested in the American West needs to read this book for a better understanding of our heartland.

I bought this book used at the Friends of the Library book sale.


Anonymous said...

Minnesota? MONTANA. Literally read ONE PAGE of the book.

Carin Siegfried said...

Thank you for the catch! I have a terrible memory and when I don't have the book next to me while writing my review, I do risk getting details wrong. I did fix this. And I did read the whole book.