A Home in America

A Home in America: A Volga German Story

by Eunice Boeve

 

The Mueller family, descendants of the Germans who settled the Volga River area in Russia in the mid-1700s, turn to America to escape Russia’s enforced military service. Told through the eyes of twelve year old Eva, the story chronicles the hardships of their travels by land and sea to America and their resettlement on the Kansas plains. 

Eva Mueller is twelve years old when her father announces that the family is leaving Russia and immigrating to America. Although they have lived in Russia their whole lives, they have always considered themselves Germans who live in Russia. In 1763, the Russian ruler, Catherine the Great, sent her representatives to Germany to offer land along the Russia’s Volga River for settlement. War and the ruling class had kept the average German citizen in poverty, and with no hope of a better life, they jumped at the Russian ruler’s wonderfully, generous sounding offer. Not only would they have their own land, they were told, but there would be housing for all, and horses and plows so they could immediately begin working the land. However, when the first group arrived, they found no houses, no horses, or plows, but there was plenty of land. The trouble was, this vast open grassland on the Volga River was peopled by nomadic tribes who swooped down on horseback, killing men and capturing woman and children. But with no place to go, no means to return to Germany and nothing there anyway, they dug in and stayed. By force of will, muscle, and faith, they carved out a life on these Russian plains. But, although they lived in Russia, these strong-willed people chose to remain German and they clung to their language, customs, and religion as fiercely as they tamed the hostile land. In the beginning, they were promised total freedom, and so it was until Russia began a forced military service of males aged sixteen to forty-five, and many began to see the handwriting on the wall. Looking to relocate, scouts were sent to the Americas, both North and South. They returned with glowing praises for both countries, and over time, those who could manage the fare, especially those who had family members in either country, packed up and left, most of them going to America.

The Mueller family relied, as many did, on a family member already in America to loan them the fare. This family member had left Russia five years before in 1888, and now lived at Herzog, Kansas, a Volga-German town with other predominately Volga German towns nearby. Eva is heartbroken at the thought of leaving Great-Grandmother who has been like a mother to her since her own mother died giving her birth. But Great-Grandmother, 92 and now blind, could not survive the difficulties of such a journey. So leaving all they knew behind, the family set out for the promise of a better life in America. However, if one is to adapt to this new country, there are changes to be made, especially for those who have always lived among their own kind with a mutual language and heritage.

REVIEWS

“A very readable story that gives an accurate depiction of the history and culture of our Volga German ancestors. I highly recommend it for all ages.” —Janel Moore, Vice President,  Sunflower Chapter of American Historical Society of Germans From Russia (AHSGR) and  the Volga German  Society, Hays, Kansas

“My great grandparents fled the Volga German land in Russia during the time of this story’s setting. My family stories and research archives coincide with the events depicted. My thanks to the author for writing this memorable story.” —Barb Lehmann

A Home in America is a charming and surprising story of a group of our country’s immigrants I had never heard of: Volga Germans. These people left a destitute Germany to go to Russia at the invitation of Catherine the Great. They accepted, believing they would find fertile farmland, houses, and domestic animals. None of these things existed. Yet, these Germans stayed and worked the land, building homes and families and a life still tied to their German culture. Eva Maria’s family—father, stepmother, two brothers, a great-grandmother, and a new baby—were descendants of the original Volga Germans. When their lives are threatened in the 1880s by a Russian war with Japan and military service of the father and one brother, they determined to leave and go to America. The story of their passage from Russia to Kansas is sometimes harrowing, sometimes challenging, and always courageous. This is a story mostly for middle grades and young adults, but I found it entertaining and enlightening as well.” —JW

This Story Captivated Me — “A Home in America: A Volga German Story by Eunice Boeve, though listed as a Children’s/Young Adult book, would be of interest to readers of all ages. This work of fiction that takes place in 1892 captivated me as I learned about a whole segment of people I hadn’t previously known. Although the book is primarily about the Mueller family as seen through the eyes of Eva Maria, age twelve, it delves into the Volga German people who, in the mid-1700′s, settled in Russia’s Volga River area to escape war-torn Germany and the unreasonable demands of the ruling class. Contrary to promises made to them by Russia, the Volga River area was devoid of houses, horses or plows. But there was land, and the Germans carved out a life on the Russian plains. They remained staunchly German, did not speak the Russian language, did not intermarry, and clung to their own customs and faith. When Russia began imposing mandatory military service on all males between the ages of sixteen and forty-five, Eva’s parents made the decision to emigrate to America. If they remained in Russia, her father and older brother would likely be conscripted into a service for which they felt no loyalty. A Home in America is a heart-warming story with the strong loyalty of family uppermost. I gained renewed respect for America’s early settlers and with the importance of working together for a common good.” —MET

A Story Comes to Life — “Immigrants have come to America from numerous nations and, from those nations, there have been many sects. The Volga Germans are one such sect—Germans who had left the poverty of their homeland behind and moved to Russia with beneficial promises from Catherine the Great. They had managed to maintain their very individual identity while living in the Volga River region, not speaking Russian nor inter-marrying with the Russians, and maintaining their Catholic religion. Sadly, however, the promises made by Tsarina Catherine were broken, and these people eventually sought a better life elsewhere—in the Americas. The story of how and why they sought a new homeland comes very much to life in Eunice Boeve’s A Home in America. Boeve is adept at getting into the mind of her narrator, a twelve to thirteen year old girl during the course of the tale, and communicating the young girl’s thoughts, her love of her great-grandmother and the rest of her family, her fears and apprehensions in both leaving Russia and making a new life in Kansas. Where Boeve particularly excels is in sharing the girl Eva Maria’s experiences at her new school once the family settles outside of Herzog, Kansas—will the other students like her, will she fit in, are they making fun of her, can she learn English, and so on. These are feelings that any young adult might share, making it particularly relevant to this age group. The story of this little known sect who settle near Hays, Kansas, is something we should all know, particularly at this time when the benefit of immigrants may be in question. There is no doubt in my mind that A Home in America is both educational and a dang good read.” —AD

Perfect Book for Grandparents to Buy for their Grandchildren — ”A Home in America evokes a memory of Little House on the Prairie, a wonderful book that every grandparent should put into their grandchildrens’ hands. It is a middle-grade book written for girls that will be appreciated and cherished by readers of all ages and sexes. Eunice Boeve’s story of a 12-year-old heroine who suffers loss and heartbreak but approaches each new day as an opportunity for growth. The strength and maturity, and the benefits of living in a multi-generational family are great reminders that we learn from each other. I plan to buy copies of this book for my local school library and for my granddaughters. The lessons of this immigrant girl’s story are timely and important in this age, a reminder of what America was and can be again. Thank you, Eunice for this heartfelt and wonderful story.” —AS

School Book Study — “Our school will be doing a whole-school book study next fall using A Home in America. The topics in this book open up opportunities for expanded study. Our town and surrounding area are heavily influenced by the Volga German heritage and we are excited to explore it. Thank you for creating a book I think our entire school will enjoy!” —SL, Hoisington Middle School, Kansas

Eunice Boeve

Eunice Boeve, who was born and raised in Montana and Idaho, has spent nearly all of her adult life in Kansas. She writes for both adults and children usually in the genre of historical fiction. She and her husband raised four children and also have five grandchildren. In addition to her family, she loves books, the outdoors, and writing stories. You can contact the author through her website: www.euniceboeve.net

ISBN: 978-1-939054-81-4

Softcover: Perfect bind

Trim Size: 5.5″ x 8.5″

Pages: 158

A Home in America

 A Home in America

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