Saturday, November 20, 2021

Harmony Verna - Beneath the Apple Leaves

In 1914, Andrew Houghton s family is one of hundreds eking out an existence in the coal mines of southwestern Pennsylvania. Though he longs to be a veterinarian, he s fated for a life underground, picking rock alongside his father.
That destiny changes when his aunt, Eveline Kiser, arranges for her husband to secure Andrew an apprenticeship on the railroad. Wilhelm Kiser, a German immigrant, has found his American dream in Pittsburgh, with a well-paying job as a brakeman, and a secure pension. But on Andrew s first week, an incident goes tragically wrong, leaving him severely injured, his dreams shattered. Wracked with guilt, Wilhelm finally agrees to his wife s pleas to leave Pittsburgh s smog behind. With Andrew in tow, they swap their three-story row house for a rough-and-tumble farm.
Life in rural Pennsylvania is not as idyllic as Eveline imagined. The soil is slow to yield and their farmhouse is in disrepair. But there is one piece of beauty in this rugged land. Lily Morton is quick-witted and tough on the outside, but bears her own secret scars inside. Andrew s bond with her will help steer them through all the challenges to come, even as anti-German sentiment spreads across America with the outbreak of World War I.
Beneath the Apple Leaves is a vivid, deeply moving portrait of family its hardships, triumphs, and passions and a powerfully authentic evocation of life on the land and the hearts that sustain it.

Comment: I saw this book was on sale earlier this year and the blurb seemed interesting enough, I imagined one of those stories where the characters face a lot of adversity but are "rewarded" at the end with happiness and success. Sadly for me, this was anything but a happy read.

In this book we follow Andrew Haughton, a young man whose dreams are simple: he wants to work with animals, perhaps becoming a veterinarian. However, life in the 1910s is very hard and his father works in a coal mine, which means any savings aren't easy to obtain, especially if his father has demanded Andrews never accepts working in the mine. Tragedy happens, however and Andrew and his mother must leave the home they have known but while he is sent to his aunt, his mother decides to leave for her Dutch homeland. Andrew is left with family but things don't go any easier there and, once again, they all need to leave, this time to a farm, but when they arrive they realize a lot of work is necessary to put things into order. Will they be able to overcome all the difficulties coming their way?

I feel like sighing. Looking at the cover, looking at the blurb I confess I imagined a very different story than the one that actually was written. And I certainly thought apples might have a bigger role in the story,perhaps because they would become important for the family's livelihood... Unfortunately, I think the bones of the story weren't used the best way.

For me, the biggest issue is how much pain and hopelessness the characters face. It seemed only bad things were happening to them all, and I assume the idea was how sorrow and heartbreak would help shape one's values and attitudes, so the family could reach happiness and union by working together, by being kind and helpful, so that their journey through so much hardship would be rewarded. At least, I saw this as being the possible goal here. However, each main character had something bad happening to them and I feel it was only for shock factor.

Were the bad things to have a positive outcome sooner, I think the character's evolution would have seemed to be better structured but in my opinion they only seemed to have strength by going through terrible things. Honestly, I think it led nowhere because by the end the characters were in the same place, emotionally and economically speaking, as they were in the beginning, only they felt like one or two events could help them see the future with brightness. I mean... this is to be expected, I suppose, but certainly not enough to turn this story around, in terms of how much they "learned".

At some point I felt like giving up but kept going, in the hopes that the characters would become wiser or more knowledgeable about the"enemy" sooner, but the bad things kept coming. As if there was no positive details in their lives to make hardship bearable... in turn, my enjoyment was also practically not even bearable because it really felt the story would go nowhere. 

As I've said, I hoped the story would lead the characters to a farm and that despite worries and problems, they would slowly get a better life, and so on but this didn't happen. Even the allusion to characters' dreams went nowhere because they could barely make ends meet and there would be another obstacle after the last one, to overcome.     

The WWI theme, the issue of racism and prejudice against Germans and people from Europe during a time war was ongoing, the way of life at a time where poverty and difficulties were too hard to avoid were interesting themes and could have provided good food for thought but the repetitiveness and constant hardship just didn't make reading this book a good experience.      
Grade: 3/10                                                                      

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