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Until We Could by Richard Blanco

The Meaning of Names

The Meaning of NamesThe Meaning of Names by Karen Gettert Shoemaker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is a literary renaissance occuring in Nebraska, with the likes of best-selling authors Rainbow Rowell and Timothy Schaffert. Karen Shoemaker's novel is a worthy contribution to this lively literary community.

The Meaning of Names was selected for this year's Omaha Reads book. It is set in Nebraska, almost a century ago, after America enters World War One. The story focuses on Gerda Vogel and Dr. Ed Gannoway. Through Gerda we experience the life of a farmers wife living on the edge of the Sandhills, but, more importantly, we experience the discrimination faced by German-Americans from neighbors who once trusted them. Through Dr. Gannoway, we focus on his struggles as a man of science with the dominant Catholic faith in his community, embodied by the new priest Father Jungels, and then the doctor's fight against the influenza which ravages the county.

Shoemaker's story, setting, and characters are all engaging, including the rich supporting characters like the club-footed driver honored to assist the doctor, the German father who resists any emotion but anger, and the father grieving over the death of his soldier son. And I enjoyed Shoemaker's language. Here is an evocative example of life on the Plains: "'A lazy wind,' Miranda said when they stepped out onto the road. 'Too lazy to go around you so it goes right through you.'"

I recommend this well-written, engaging story, and not just to Nebraskans.

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