Fourth Wednesday Book Club: Bad Land: An American Romance

Jan 17, 2017 | News

Please join us in the ESUC Library to discuss Bad Land: An American Romance by Jonathan Raban on February 22nd at 7:30 p.m. “When Dad came out here, he had $25, a wagon, and a mule.” So began the stories of countless homesteaders who, in the first decades of the 20th century, seized an astounding government offer: 320 free acres in the stark, dry plains of Montana and the Dakotas. Seduced by the promises of railroad companies, by liberal credit from bankers, and by scientific claims about dry-land farming: seduced, above all, by the prospect of a new life in the New World, Americans and Europeans came determined to put down roots and prosper.

In Bad Land, Raban imaginatively re-creates the austere terrain that once housed their hopes; he portrays the people whose dreams foundered there and the survivors who endured amidst the ruins of those who fled. He brings to life the deserted homesteads and recaptures the voices of those immigrants for whom the bare prairie represented a fantastic chance for personal renewal.

With razor-sharp acuity and wit, Raban makes clear that our notion of the West as a realm of settled communities peopled by farmers and small-town merchants has always been more imaginary than real. His portrait of this least-known region of the United States strips away the myth – while preserving the romance – that has shrouded our understanding of it. Bad Land is at once a revelatory and moving journey into the forlorn soul of our heartland.  (Published 1996.)