The Last of the Blacksmiths, by Claire Gebben
In The Last Of The Blacksmiths (352 pages), Claire Gebben brings to life the moving story of Michael Harm, a nineteenth century blacksmith from the Bavarian Rhinelands who dares to follow his dreams of freedom and prosperity and travels from Germany to Cleveland, OH, to pursue an artisan way of life.
Like many generations before her, author Claire Gebben had kept in contact with her German side of her family via letter writing. A few years ago, she received a fantastic surprise when her family in Freinsheim, Germany discovered old letters in their attic–letters written in 1841 announcing a family member’s safe arrival in Cleveland, OH. Who wrote these letters? Claire embarked on a quest to find out more, and in the process she became fascinated with the German immigrant experience.
April Literary Pick: “The Last of the Blacksmiths was a delight to read and I recommend it to anyone interested in the wave of German immigration to the US following the failed 1848 revolution.”
—Carl Anderson, German American Heritage Foundation Newsletter
5 Stars: “An intimately detailed story in which readers viscerally feel what it was like to be alive during the late 1800s. Rich in details, readers explore the thoughts of the German-born people living during America’s western migration, early industrial era, and its pre- through post-civil war times…. Gebben writes from the heart.”
—Sarah Roberts, San Francisco Book Review
“Many of us have an ancestor with an interesting story. Some also set about to write that story for publication, and most fail to realize that the story is not enough: a full context is what produces verisimilitude and brings the characters to life–in fact or fiction. Claire Gebben has mastered both the story and the context in this work. While acknowledging in her introductory ‘Dear Reader’ note [n.p.] that her work is based on fact, supported by letters and other documents, she states ‘it is one hundred percent historical fiction.’ She freely used her considerable skills as an author and researcher to write of the experiences of Michael Harm, her blacksmith ancestor. He is so clearly a product of his times and society that the novel has the ring of historical authenticity…. This is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of historical fiction…. Kudos to Claire Gebben for making genealogy and fiction work so well together!”
—Eleanor L. Turk, Yearbook of German American Studies, Spring 2015
Michael Harm is a farmer’s son in the Bavarian Rhineland who dreams of excitement and freedom. Every day Michael toils beside his brother in the vineyards wishing he could be a blacksmith, a singer, or an adventurer.
One day the Harm family receives a letter from America offering a blacksmithing apprenticeship in a relative’s Cleveland, OH wagon-making shop to the eldest son. Michael begs to take his brother’s place, and at age fifteen, leaves his family behind for America. On a storm-tossed Atlantic crossing, he meets Charles Rauch, the son of a Cleveland wagon-maker, his future rival in carriage-making and love.
Michael arrives in an America he can barely comprehend, confronting riots in New York, anti-immigrant bigotry in Cleveland, and his uncle, a cruel blacksmith master. Michael struggles through his indenture, inspired by rags-to-riches stories such as that of presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln. He receives his freedom dues just as war threatens to destroy the country he now calls home.
It is not the Civil War, but Cleveland’s post-war Gilded Age, that forces Michael to face his greatest challenge—an accelerating machine age destined to wipe out his livelihood forever. Populated by characters both historical and invented, The Last of the Blacksmiths is a tale of the disruption and dispersal of an immigrant family, the twilight of the artisan crafts, and the efforts of each generation to shape its destiny. A consummate storyteller, Claire Gebben demonstrates a brilliant ability to imagine and recreate the past with historical vigor and beauty.
Claire Gebben was born and raised on the southeast side of Cleveland. After earning her BA in Psychology from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, she eventually settled with her husband in Seattle. She’s worked as a newspaper columnist, newsletter editor, and ghostwriter, all the while raising a family and pursuing her first love of writing. In 2011, she earned an MFA in Creative Writing through the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts on Whidbey Island, WA. Her writing has appeared in Shark Reef, The Speculative Edge, Soundings Review, The Fine Line, and ColumbiaKIDSe-zine. The Last Of The Blacksmiths is her first novel. Click here to find Claire online.
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