Title: Prairie Silence
Author: Melanie Hoffert
Published: January 8, 2013
Publisher: Beacon Press
Publisher Website: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
While Melanie Hoffert was quick to leave her North Dakota home when she got the chance, she has always felt a longing for everything that said home represents. There’s a dissonance between the comforting aspects of home and family and the silence that it imposes on those who may not fit the expectations of their community. But Melanie is determined to explore this disconnect and try to reconcile these aspects of her life and self, planning to spend a harvest at home helping on the farm. Her journey is one of self-discovery, learning things about her friends and family she hadn’t noticed before, and understanding what it means to call the prairie home, even if it’s not where you will live out your days.
This book resonated for me on so very many levels. For starters, Melanie’s family farm is about 30 miles from where I grew up. The places (and even some of the people) she mentions in this book are extremely familiar to me. The sense of community, the descriptions of life growing up where she did–are all things from which I can draw some very direct parallels. I’m also someone who left North Dakota when I finished college, taking the first chance I could get to be somewhere else. I did end up going back for a few years, but have since moved on again. And many of the same reasons and beliefs and worries that Melanie shares in her book are things I’ve felt.
But beyond all that, what the author has done here is construct an incredible narrative that I think will resonate with anyone who has ever left home and spent time trying to reconcile what it means to leave home behind. I also think even those who stayed where they grew up can find moments in this book that speak to them, as the author examines how we all find our place in our community and the reasons people choose to stay. And, of course, anyone who has ever felt like they’re a bit of an outsider in their family or who has ever felt like they couldn’t be completely open with those who are closest to them will identify with Melanie’s journey and join her in the revelations that she makes as she finishes her harvest retreat and decides to return to the city.
This book was the winner of the Minnesota Book Award for Memoir & Creative Nonfiction in 2014, and it’s clear why. Not only is the story raw and moving, but the writing is compelling, engaging, and descriptive. This is definitely an author I plan to watch for in the future…