Aug 5, 2009

Dust Bowl Diary

by Ann Marie Low

I've had a copy of this book sitting on my shelf since I picked it up from the Book Thing a few years ago. I'm glad I finally read it. Dust Bowl Diary is a book that really lets the reader step back in time. Told in diary entries and reminisces, it chronicles nearly a decade of life on a North Dakota farm. The book opens right before the Great Depression, and closes when years of drought, dust storms and economic failure had forced the farmers off their land. Throughout it all the voice of Ann tells us how much she loved the land, and her heartache at seeing things change, her family's constant struggles to keep going and hope for better times- until no hope was left and all she wanted to do was leave.

Ann was a farmer's daughter- used to getting up early for long hours of chores, riding horseback when she could, cherishing her hard-earned education. She talks about facing long winters with monstrous high drifts of snow, then bone-dry summers that left fields barren and cattle starving. She talks about fighting prarie fires, listening to coyote song, and harvesting wild chokecherries. She talks about changes in technology- seeing the first "talking picture" at the movie theater in town, the difference between backbreaking hours of work harvesting with manpower and horse teams, and using modern machinery. Some things which seemed like such an innovation to her then- a washing machine comprised of a wooden tub with a crank handle on the outside, an eight-track tape player in the cab of a truck- seem laughably antique to me, now. How far we have come. I often felt downright lazy while reading this book, because the overwhelming impression I got was how hard people worked back then, how hard for what little return. And they were patient, gracious, generous and kind to their neighbors. Ann was a spirited girl, one to keep her independence and refuse suitors as long as she could. She became a schoolteacher, one of the few opportunities available to women at the time, and worked to help support her family when the farm failed them. Her words are frank, and her use of expletives amusing- "Gee-whiz!" and "ixnay" were two favorite expressions.

The only other books I've read about the Great Depression and farms facing drought are The Grapes of Wrath in school (which we had to analyze to death) and The Time It Never Rained by Elmer Kelton, which I picked up from a secondhand shop in San Francisco, just because it looked interesting. I liked reading about the same circumstances from an actual diary, and comparing it to what the novels depicted.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 188 pages, 1984

More opinions at:
Bird in Hand Yarn
anyone else?


  1. Hmmm. I am a farmer's daughter, and even though we didn't go through the Great Depression, we had some hard times while I was growing up. So does that mean if I had kept a diary, I could have written a book about it? Darn!@#

  2. I don't think I'd want anyone to read the diary I wrote growing up! But I'm sure she did some editing, and didn't include everything.

  3. A ridiculous confession: My eyes start smarting when I read about dusty things (they are watering right now just typing this comment), and it makes it nearly impossible for me to get through most Great Depression books. Even when they are not talking about dust, I'm remembering my American History classes, and my eyes start watering as if there actually is dust in my contact lenses.

    This sounds so interesting though! My grandfather used to tell me stories about when he was small during the Depression - his much-older sister was apparently really tough and got the family through (through the recession - they were in upstate New York and were not having Grapes-of-Wrath type difficulties).

  4. For some reason, I find this time period fascinating. So I think I'd like to read this sometime.

  5. Jenny- I knew the dust was bad, but I was still astonished when I read about her having to clean the house top to bottom almost every day to get rid of inches of dirt. I can't imagine living with that.

    Nymeth- I think you'd like it!


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