Shelterbelts by Candace Simar, a book review by Mary Algaard


Posted by Mary Aalgaard on Jul 23, 2015 in Play off the Page | 2 comments

Quote of the Day: Above the tree line, beyond the Hanson farm, the steeple of Tolga Lutheran poked into the clouds. The steeple showed from every corner of their farm. Tia looked toward the church many times a day while doing her work. She couldn’t put it into words, and would have been embarrassed to try, but she found a quiet strength in her faith. How else would she have gotten this far? Candace Simar, a excerpt from her book Shelterbelts.

An areal shot of my ruralhood and Bethany Lutheran Church with the red cross on top.

That was the line that connected me to Candace’s newest novel,Shelterbelts. I, too, grew up in a rural, farming community. Our church, Bethany Lutheran, has a red cross on top of its steeple, a beacon in the night, guiding many a traveler, especially during winter storms. Tia, whom I consider the main character, looks to her church for comfort. She is one of those farm girls who isn’t afraid to jump in a cow pen, perform a mercy killing on a deformed calf, or do any of the hard labor of the farm. In fact, she likes it. Her brother, Norman, is returning home from Germany at the end of WWII. He is not as sure about farm life, or any part of life, for that matter. Tia reminds me of my Godmother, who is my dad’s cousin, Iona. She was also a true farmer. I think she worked harder than anyone on her farm! Millie, the church organist, reminded me a bit of myself. She describes the way people are talking or feeling in musical terms.I pictured the old farmsteads in my home area while reading Candace’s descriptions, and saw my neighbor’s farmhouse, clear as day, when she wrote about Millie’s house where she lives with her dad because her brother died in the war, and her mother has already passed away.

Shelterbelts is about a farming community in Minnesota, around the Fergus Falls area. (I grew up near Ada, which is north of Moorhead). World War II has just ended. Some soldiers are coming home, while others never will. The folks who populate this rural area are, for the most part, Norwegian Americans, and the ones who aren’t stand out like a sore thumb. They have church socials, and a few superstitions, especially when it comes to farming. They are set in their ways and have hard dug furrows that define what women and men should be doing. Tia, for instance, won’t be going to ag school, which she’d love to do. Her brother Norman is expected to go, but he’s not so sure he’s interested in farming anymore. Candace includes a large cast of characters in her novel. We enter each home, and perspective, at various times, as the story is told from many angles. Sometimes, I had to stop and look back at how some people are related, and where their farms where in relation to each other. Although, Candace did a good job of coming up with a variety of names, considering most people in the ruralhood of Minnesota have last names ending in -son. We have a bumper crop of Andersons, Olsons, Hansons, Johnsons, and Nelsons. In fact, one clever writer called this “The Land of 10,000 Andersons.” Although, I’m sure there are many, many more than that! The main character is Tia Fiskum. My name comes straight out of the farm country of Norway, Aalgaard. But, most people take the name of their father, and add the -son.

I started reading Shelterbelts while relaxing on the sands of Lake Carlos, not too far from its setting in the Fergus Falls area of Minnesota.

Shelterbelts is a great read for anyone who likes historical fiction, particularly set in rural Minnesota, in the late 1940’s. It’s for anyone who is interested in farm life, and what it used to mean to be a family farm. It’s for anyone who likes to read about a community and how they live and work together, sometimes dropping everything to help a sick neighbor, and at other times, keeping them in their place with preconceived notions and strict religious and cultural beliefs. I loved reading Shelterbelts. I took my time, savoring the language, and living inside that community. It has become one of my comfort books because it feels like home. It sits alongside Jon Hassler’s North of Hope, and Lorna Landvik’s Oh, My Stars.

You can read more about Candace Simar and her award-winning Abercrombie Trail series at her website. Thanks for writingShelterbelts, Candace! You are a sister in the ruralhood! Shelterbeltswill soon be available as an audio book. When I attended her book launch here in the Brainerd area, the reader gave us a delightful sampling. His voice fits the story splendidly.


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