It's well known that the Little House books deviated from reality in major ways, and that Rose Wilder Lane was a major collaborative force in bringing the "juveniles" to publication. Sorting through the muddled mess of half-truths could be confusing, but Fraser lays out the facts through primary source materials, manuscripts and letters. The book is quite long; the galley is over pages, plus citations, but it's a fast, intriguing read for people like me who are already invested in Wilder's world.
The only challenge in the book is not the author's fault at all, but the dominating, bipolar presence of Rose Wilder Lane. She cannot be separated from her mother's legacy; she had too great a role in developing the books, and her influence on her mother is undeniable. But my gosh, Lane is exhausting to read about. She was mentally ill, vacillating between suicidal depression and manic spending sprees, and as she grew older her extreme politics took on a sinister bent. If she were alive today, she would be an alt right troll on Twitter.
Fraser doesn't shy away from showing how Lane's politics--and Wilder's--evolved through the ends of their lives. It's not a pretty truth; actually, it's rather infuriating to see how Wilder's celebration of the can-do American farming experience was so far from reality. Her family was persistently poor.
They settled on Kansas land they had no right to. They slipped out of Burr Oak, Iowa, in the dead of night to evade debt. Wilder's sisters and mother died, still utterly stricken by poverty. Wilder was only secure at the end because of her book sales, as her Missouri farm had always hovered at the edge of failure, too, intermittently blessed and damned by Lane's financial whims. While this book will be enlightening for anyone who loves Wilder's work, it should be regarded as a vital read for anyone with an interest in American history from onward.
It presents on honest, brutal assessment of what Native Americans endured in Minnesota and beyond, the realities of farming, the interplay of politics on local and national levels, and how the west was settled--and unsettled in our modern era of oil pipelines and fracking. View all 14 comments. Mar 14, Rana rated it liked it Shelves: never-finished. Don't tell anybody but I can't finish this.
I'm just to the point where Laura is finally starting to write the goddamned books but jesus wearing a sun bonnet, if I have to read anymore about Rose, I will poke my eyes out. View all 15 comments. Oct 20, Diane rated it it was amazing Shelves: audiobooks , nonfiction , americana , history. It's about the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, but there is so much social history here that it's also the story of the American plains.
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Market crashes. And of course, devastating, all-consuming fires. I grew up reading the "Little House" books about Laura Ingalls, and like millions of children, I loved them. Being a child of the 80s, I also grew up liking the "Prairie Fires" is one of my favorite biographies I read in Being a child of the 80s, I also grew up liking the "Little House" TV show starring Michael Landon even though it greatly exaggerated the affluence of the Ingalls family, making it charmingly ridiculous in hindsight.
Reading "Prairie Fires" will bring new appreciation and insight to fellow fans. The biography is brilliantly written and structured, beginning with damnable government policies and violent clashes with the Indians before Laura was born; following her family through their difficult and circuitous travels around the Midwest; detailing her marriage to Almanzo and her tempestuous relationship with their daughter, Rose who seemed to suffer from manic-depressive illness ; continuing with how Laura got her start writing the children's books, and how Rose was a wizardly co-writer hiding behind the curtain; and finally, the strange story of what happened to the Wilder estate after Laura died.
There are so many fascinating details in this book that I cannot recommend it highly enough. It may damage your childish dreams about Laura's pioneer experiences that were featured in the original novels, but those were always a fictionalized version of the truth. The reality is much more interesting, and is a story worth knowing. Meaningful Passage "Laura Ingalls Wilder was a real person.
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When you stand in the small town cemeteries where she and her people are buried, you know that they were real. She always remembered that place, that moment, 'a wild, beautiful little body of water, a resting place for the wild water birds of all kinds, many varieties of ducks, wild geese, swans, and pelicans. But however emblematic her portrait, it was also achingly specific, down to the lilt of the songs they sang and their last glimpse of an intact prairie: the grasses waving and blowing in the wind, the violets blooming in the buffalo wallows, the setting sun sending streamers through the sky.
In the end, being there was all she ever wanted. Apr 24, Clif Hostetler rated it it was amazing Shelves: biography. This book is marketed and generally reviewed as the definitive biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder , author of the Little House series of books.
My description is a bit different. This Pulitzer Prize winning book came across to me as a verbal Venn diagram consisting of three major biographies of; 1 Laura Ingalls Wilder, 2 her daughter Rose Wilder Lane , and 3 the Little House books themselves which seem to have a continuing life of their own by turning into a TV series leading to a secondary ex This book is marketed and generally reviewed as the definitive biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder , author of the Little House series of books.
This Pulitzer Prize winning book came across to me as a verbal Venn diagram consisting of three major biographies of; 1 Laura Ingalls Wilder, 2 her daughter Rose Wilder Lane , and 3 the Little House books themselves which seem to have a continuing life of their own by turning into a TV series leading to a secondary explosion in book sales.
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In addition to these three major biographies are multiple overlapping stories consisting of the stories of other family members, ancestors, neighbors, contextual history, culture, and economics. Below all the aforementioned stories—i. The book offers moral full disclosure by beginning the book with acknowledgment of the original occupants of the land—the Native American Indians with particular focus on the story of the Dakota War of It's worth noting that the presence of American Indians are occasionally referenced in the Little House books, but not much sympathy is expressed for their forced change of life.
Readers of this book experience Laura's story twice, once while her life is described as it actually happened and second when the story is written down many years later.
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Laura initially wrote her memoir intended for adult readers as Pioneer Girl. At the time, it was rejected by publishers and was never released. Then her daughter, based on suggestions from a publisher, encourage Laura to write a portion of her memoir intended as children's literature. That version met with success and between the years to Laura wrote eight books which covered her life up until her marriage at age eighteen. It's interesting to following the process of writing of these books because the reader has been told the non-fiction version, and it is fascinating to see how a difficult and complicated story with many ups and downs turned into a mostly happy story.
Part of this can be excused because of the young target audience.
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However, there are various indications that some of the parts of her life left out were parts she couldn't write about—i. Laura's daughter Rose is a significant part of this book because her involvement with the writing of the books has been the topic of scholarly debate for a number of years. The author, Caroline Fraser, in this book describes their working relationship as mutually dependent. Laura was the one who had lived the story, wrote the original draft, and was able to infuse the writing with simple emotion with which readers fell in love.
Her daughter Rose had the writing skills and publishing contacts necessary to polish the writing into a compelling narrative and get it published. Neither could have written the books on their own. So why didn't Rose insist on being acknowledged as a co-author or editor? Ironically, she considered the books to be children's literature which was beneath her reputation as a writer for adults, so she preferred that they be credited to her mother.
Once the initial books were successful they felt obliged to continue with the initial authorship credits. Unfortunately, they also fell into the mistake of insisting that the stories were true. The fact is that they are based on true stories, but the time line has been juggled and portions of the real life story—the painful and embarrassing parts—have been skipped over.
The pioneer story represented by Prairie Fires is at the heart of the American psychic. I found the book compelling because I know that my own ancestors lived through experiences similar to those described. The following are some quotations and excerpts that caught my attention. Laura loved both her parents, but her father was clearly her favorite: Sometime shortly after his death, she wrote an essay about her earliest memories of him.
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It seems more than a mere tribute or homage, attesting rather to a powerful need to weave her way back into his presence, to find him again through the art of description. It starts with his eyes, "so clear and sharp and blue" that could "look so unerringly along a rifle barrel in the face of a bear … and yet were so tender as they rested on his Carolyn … or me. His most remarkable gift, as Laura saw it, was a deep and profound contentment with what he had. Despite all the losses and reverses, the perils, the hunger, the always disappointed hopes in the next harvest, he was satisfied with the life he had chosen.
He cherished his wife, his children, and his music: "All father needed to make him happy was his family, a new wild country to live in or travel over, good hunting and fishing, some traps, his gun, two good horses hitched to a rain proof wagon and his violin. I am not sure but I should have put the violin first and the family second and I know that its place was second only to the family with us all.
It made merry with us when we were glad, it sympathized with us when we were sad, it gave us paeans of praise when we had been good or successful and acted as a father confessor when we had been bad. In her Hard Winter she disposed forever of the horrible George and Maggie, and their ill-timed baby. In Little Town, she improved her test scores. But nothing more consequential, more dramatic, and more heart breaking than what she left out at the end, the grief and penury that was soon to come.