Wednesday, September 15, 2004

In My Father's House: Post-World War I America

Bodie Thoene’s "Shiloh Legacy" begins with In My Father’s House. Starting near the end of World War I, In My Father’s House covers a tumultuous period of history: the horrors of the Great War, the Flu Epidemic, and then the racial violence of the post-war years.

The story follows the lives of several young soldiers in France at the war’s end – their last battles, the Armistice celebrations, welcoming home and their adjustments to post-war life. The story at first includes Max Meyer and his affair with a young Irish woman, but that particular plot gets to a certain point and then stops (to be resumed, apparently, in the next book in the series). In particular, In My Father’s House details the lives of Ellis Warne in Ohio, and several other characters – farmboy Birch Tucker, black soldier Jefferson Canfield, and Jewish Trudy Meyer – residing in Western Arkansas. Through the two settings – Ohio and Arkansas – we see the major issues confronting both regions, including the Ku Klux Klan’s influence in both the Jim Crow South and the politics of suburban Ohio.

The "Shiloh Legacy" series is said to include some of the characters referenced later in the Zion book series. Having read the "Zion Covenant" pre-World War II series, it was nice to meet the younger Theo Lindheim, if only briefly.

As with their other novels, the Thoenes again bring a well-researched story rich with information about the time period. The year 1919 was among the more violent in race riots, and the story makes reference to such things as the Chicago riot and the general anti-immigrant, isolationist attitude of most Americans. President Woodrow Wilson even makes a brief appearance, and characters later follow-up with the news of Wilson’s unsuccessful attempt to have the U.S. join the "League of Nations."

The one weakness is the author’s tendency – so common in modern-day historical fiction works – to project today’s politically correct ideas, especially concerning racial issues, onto the major characters of an earlier time period. At times it seems that some of the characters (especially Trudy Meyer and Birch Tucker) are mere transplants from our day, with seemingly no clue about black-white relationships in the early twentieth century. Even Doc Warne seems amazingly out of step with his contemporaries, considering the economic and social circumstances.

As the first part of a series, this first novel has a seemingly abrupt ending, one that leaves too many unresolved plot threads. The next two books in the series continue the story over the next decade. In My Father’s House is an excellent start to a trilogy about these World War I veterans and their families, in their lives after the Great War.

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