Book review "The Turk and My Mother" Mary Helen Stefaniak
Reviewed by Katarina Tepesh
"The Turk and My Mother" opens up with author's note explaining to the reader how "Staramajka" is the Croatian word for Grandmother.
When Josip, or in rarer moments of affection, Joza leaves for America in the spring of 1914, leaving behind his wife, a touching love story describing four generations begins.
Stefaniak describes Croatia from a long time ago, where her ancestors came from, "as people who lived hard lives in tiny villages, in a part of Europe that was so used to being cut up and handed around like cake, at the end of every big and little warâ€¦.."
Written with humor and affection, describing with details the immigrant neighborhood in Milwaukee, the novel encompasses a family's secret history, forbidden love, passion, loss, nostalgia for home, and the sorrow and pain and complexity of life.
A journey across continents, the book is full of familiar memories about the rural village of Novo Selo, where people used to live without heat, no lights, no running water and mud in the street to your knees every spring.
Much later, when Stefaniak travels to Croatia, to unravel the family mystery, she visits the four-hundred-year-old church, sees storks nesting on their chimneys and houses with ancient well in back yards. She sleeps on the big straw mattress layered with featherbeds.
Mary Helen Stefaniak is the prize-winning author of "Self Storage and Other Stories." She teaches creative writing at Creighton University and lives in Omaha and Iowa City with her family. See her web site atwww.maryhelenstefaniak.com
"The Turk and My Mother" published by Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc. $24.95. See www.amazon.com for discounts. A paperback edition is coming out in June of 2005.