Fruit Fields in My Blood: Okie Migrants in the West (Northwest Folklife)

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9780893011529: Fruit Fields in My Blood: Okie Migrants in the West (Northwest Folklife)

Book by Sonneman, Toby F.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

Absorbing memoir/history of migrant work and workers by anthropologist Sonneman, herself a former migrant worker. Though a drop-out from mainstream society who worked in orchards and citrus groves for 15 years, Sonneman puts her social- science education to good use in this humane, unsentimental, and thorough study of near-poverty in America's agricultural community. Weaving together personal experience, anecdotes, and research gathered since 1973, Sonneman and her husband, Rick Steigmeyer (who took many of the book's 173 b&w photographs), create a tapestry of words, pictures, feelings, and historical facts, evoking with an almost tribal grasp of its values the way of life of migrant pickers. Presented here, along with the beauty of early mornings and a real sense of freedom, are suspicious townspeople, rural police, and filthy toilets. And good history: the text offers a bridge to the Great Depression and abounds with Okie observations, wit, and values--a submerged tradition in danger of disappearing with the advent of illegal immigrants who will work for even less. Through it all run the themes of exploitation, industrialization, labor-union failure, and the driving away from the earth of people close to it. Speaking of the old-timers, migrant-worker Walter Williams observes that ``pride was the thing that kept them going in the face of the shame they may have felt.'' That shame is the shame of the poor in a commercial culture; Sonneman's migrants are people for whom money, retirement plans, and insurance have less magic than work, community, and the land. For an anthropologist to identify so with a group under study raises ethical considerations, but Sonneman's very committed text passes the test. Where it differs from 30's writing is in its lack of drive, fire, and eloquence: The social scientist in Sonneman makes her an accurate, detached observer--good enough to win a citation of merit from the Western States Book Awards--but doesn't produce memorable writing. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Review:

As a Chicago school girl, Toby Sonneman got migrant fever from reading John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Necessity as well as a desire for experience took her and her husband Rick Steigmeyer, despite college educations, to work the fields and follow the migrant stream for fifteen years. With a journalistic eye, she writes lovingly and intimately of America's "Okie" migrant work force as history borne in the Depression 1930s to its current near demise. Her book depicts the "exhilaration" of hard work and fresh air and the overwhelming beauty of a cherry orchard seen from the top of a ten-foot ladder. It tells of the "whir of Buick tires on the highway" that stirs the blood and locks the lifestyle into a people's heart into the third generation. Perhaps most importantly, it is about "choosing a way of life considered to be without merit by the rest of society," despite the label of "low down fruit tramp," the hardships of a capricious harvest, and the failure of unions and legislation - for if the people from the Great Plains love anything, it is their family, their freedom, and their sense of pride and dignity. Toby Sonneman's book, winner of the Western States Book Award, speaks plainly and honestly, with the wit and wisdom of her subjects. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. -- From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Nelle M

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Sonneman, Toby F.
Published by Univ of Idaho Pr (1992)
ISBN 10: 0893011525 ISBN 13: 9780893011529
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Toby F. Sonneman
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ISBN 10: 0893011525 ISBN 13: 9780893011529
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