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A Son of the Middle Border ~ A Capsule Book Review

A Son of the Middle Border ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Hamlin Garland was an American writer who lived from 1860 to 1940. His memoir novel, A Son of the Middle Border, was first published in 1917. It’s the story of Hamlin Garland’s farm childhood and his struggles to gain success as a writer in early adulthood.

The Garland family lived in the Wisconsin wilderness, in a deep ravine known as a “coulee.” His father, Richard Garland, came home from the Civil War in 1865. He was forever after a military man who believed in military discipline, even when dealing with his four small children. He became disenchanted with life in Wisconsin and moved his family father west to the barren plains of Iowa, where he became a wheat farmer.

Life in Iowa for the Garland family was no better than it had been in Wisconsin. The barren Iowa plains were lacking in vegetation, brutally cold in winter and blisteringly hot in summer. Every living thing, man and animal, suffered in Iowa. When the wheat crops were abundant, a farmer could make a living for himself and his family, but the trouble was that wheat farming was dependent on the whims of weather and nature. When “chinch bugs” destroyed the wheat crops two years in a row, many wheat farmers had to sell out and find an easier way to make a living.

The lure of the West was strong for many people during this time. Richard Garland once again moved his family farther west, this time to the Dakotas. He tried various enterprises but was never able to attain more than marginal success as a tiller of the soil. His long-suffering wife always went along with whatever he wanted without complaint, but anybody could see that she was fast becoming an old woman before her time. Of the Garlands’ four children, their two daughters died in young adulthood without ever escaping the farm.

Despite Hamlin Garland’s hard life as an Iowa farm boy, he was determined to get an education and not be a poor farmer all his life. Sometimes his work on the farm left him little time or energy for anything else, but he overcame many obstacles and went to school whenever and wherever he could. The third act of A Son of the Middle Border concerns how he, as a young man, left the farm, went away to Boston and established himself in the literary world. It is a particularly American story about how one man, born poor and with few advantages in life, went after what he most desired in life and succeeded.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp