• Deborah MB

The California Immigrant has a Divine American agenda

The California Immigrant - a book review

Barbara Anne King brings us a condensed saga on the success of the hardworking, God-fearing Croatian immigrants in California as they become ideal Americans.

Allegedly inspired by her own family history, Ms King tells the story of Martin Petrovich, a man of constant moral superiority, who leaves his native Croatia a pauper, but once in California works hard to establish successful businesses, inspire his family and community, serve in WWI, have his sons become WWII heroes, and eventually become major of his town.

This is a tale exemplifying the importance of freedom, aspiration, historical relevance, mettle, and the values of the Western world – never clearer than at the end of the story, when successful Petrovich returns to visit his struggling elderly sisters in Communist Yugoslavia.

Who would enjoy this

This is a book for those who want a feel good, from rags to riches American Dream story. It also provides an interesting insight into a particular community, as well as into the microcosm of the California rural ethic groups at very trying times.

If you are a reader who likes sagas, but cannot find the time for N volumes on a family’s lifespan, this could well satisfy the urge. Similarly, if you like history but not reading books on actual history, Ms King’s narrative will provide a lot of minutiae on the main events of a bit over 50 years.

Who should give this a pass

If you are world history and politically savvy, this story may not be for you. The narrative is heavily loaded with an agenda, as well as a religious angle, which probably are only really palatable to similarly minded readers.

If you don’t mind these characteristics, but do mind stilted dialogues with a clear aim to instruct, this book is not for you, either.

Conclusion and suggestions

The chance to witness the inner workings of a specific minority community in America, particularly at a time of such conflict with the whole immigrant question, is a great premise. Particularly because, in this story, there are no ‘American born’ WASP characters to be seen. On the contrary, Watsonville comes out of these pages as populated merely by migrants: Croatians, Japanese, Chinese, Mexicans, and the odd Jew (defined by his ethnicity, rather than nationality). Martin Petrovich’s clear desire to integrate and do away with racism is sadly curtailed by the underlying racism in the story, which are left unresolved: the whole uproar regarding the Chetnik film, the constant lack of full trust in Hector, the superiority of America over any other nation presented, etc.

Instead, Ms King repeatedly describes food, feasts, and attires, and leaves the reader to wonder at the real questions brought up: how did the Croatian community react to the rise of Tito? What happened to the black soldiers that befriended whites while in combat, once they returned to America? Why did the US and USSR engage in a cold war? What was the effect of American presence and politics in Europe and Asia after the wars? Or, how can they confuse the Baltic republics with the Ukraine? Considering Ms King’s professional background, these omissions/mistakes are quite a let down.

This book has a clear agenda, and it does very little to hide it. It is as clear and pedantic as the stilted dialogues full of needless data and high-faluttin’ language. As a result, its reader pool will necessarily be reduced to a very specific demographic.

Given this book as a draft, I would allocate a solid, no-nonsense editor to handle it. The ideas are good; the delivery, less so.

What this book would benefit from:

- Purging of the dialogues: use vernacular, shorter sentences and limit the exposition of information to a bare minimum – be more realistic!

- Double checking all the data: there are mistakes in geography (see above), in logical jumps, and in historical possibility (i.e. a pub in England, in the middle of the war, offering 2 meat dishes, and meringues. England had severe rationing all the way into the 50s, a reality which a simple check would have revealed)

- Avoiding voice changes: stylistic mistakes such as changing voice from ‘it’ or ‘they’ to ‘me’ is very jarring, as well as revealing lack of attention.

- Letting the characters deal with conflict: conflict, loss, and pain are only lightly dealt with. While the loss of a spouse is over in a few lines, a meal will earn a couple of paragraphs. Humans need to overcome difficulties, we are not saints (or, worse, emotionally detached).

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