Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Learning History Through Fiction

I didn't grow up in Minnesota, I grew up in southern California so in school I learned the history of California. But now I live in Minnesota and I know very little about the state's history. I don't have children so haven't learned any history by proxy. And while there are actually a number of historical novels set in the Twin Cities and other parts of the state, I never thought to actually read one until a few days ago. The book I began reading at lunch the other day is called Summit Avenue by Mary Sharratt. The book is set in Minneapolis and St Paul just before and during World War One. The main character is Kathrin who is only 16 when she arrives from Germany, both her parents dead, to live with her cousin in a rundown boarding house and work at the flour mills sewing flour bags. Kathrin works at the Pillsbury flour mill which still exists. And while looking for the photo, I found out that Minneapolis used to be known as the "Flour Milling Capital of the Wolrd." As for the title, Summit Avenue is a street lined with mansions in St Paul. I've driven down portions of it a few times just to gawk. You can see a few photos of some of the homes at the site for the F. Scott Fitzgerald walking tour I'm only 30 pages into the book and already enjoying it. My pleasure is double edged, not only am I enjoying the history lesson, but the story is good too. Why I have always hesitated about reading books like this I'll never understand completely. I'm glad I got over it though because now I am looking forward to eventually reading a few books by Stanley Gordon West. One is called Until They Bring the Streetcars Back and from reader comments, it appears the book is being assigned in schools. I'll have to do more digging to see what other historical novels about Minnesota I can turn up. Because really, isn't a good story one of the best ways to learn?