The dust storms that terrorized the High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since. Timothy Egan’s critically acclaimed account rescues this iconic chapter of American history from the shadows in a tour de force of historical reportage. Following a dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region, Egan tells of their desperate attempts to carry on through blinding black dust blizzards, crop failure, and the death of loved ones.
I already had this as an ebook so I was happy to see it picked for our library book group! Unfortunately I was sick and couldn’t attend the meeting at the end of March… which probably worked out for the best since I hadn’t finished reading it by then anyway I was still interested, though, so I plowed (ha) through to the end, finishing mid-April.
I knew a little bit about the Dust Bowl already from school, Ken Burns’s documentary, and just living in this region for more than ten years. But I hadn’t really thought much about exactly how these storms effected the country, the economy, and specifically the people who lived in their paths. Egan’s book really laid it all out on the table for you: the residents’ hunger, frustration, fear, desperation, poverty… and also their hopefulness, strength, perseverance, and tenacity. I found his descriptions and portraits of the residents to be full of life and character, really fleshing out these people as actual real people who lived through this devastating time (and some of those who didn’t).
Once in a while I did feel like the writing was a bit dry and certain things repetitious, but I suppose that’s how life was in No Man’s Land for so long. Egan hammered home exactly how the dust and dirt smelled, looked, felt—how it was unstoppable and crept in through every minuscule crack, embedded itself in your clothing, pores, lungs, eyes, everywhere. I can’t even imagine having to live through something like that, and for more than a decade straight. Egan also minces no words blaming humans for this agricultural disaster, which is totally deserved and appropriate. Great, fascinating read on American agricultural history!
Read from March 17 to April 19, 2014.