It is 1914 in Pittsburgh, and eighteen-year-old Hazel Renner dreams of a life where she can pursue her interest in art rather than her German immigrant parents' ambitions for her. Hazel trains to be a teacher to please them.
Then she learns a family secret, and decides to go away to teach in a small country school. A tragedy there sends her home, and then to Dogwood, New Jersey, to learn the truth about her background. There she meets a mysterious German baron living in a castle, and begins working in his art dealership. Meanwhile, world events swirl around them and her family and friends, as the war in Europe escalates and America ultimately enters it, followed by the influenza epidemic of 1918.
This book explores what life was like for German immigrants to the United States (and their American-born children) during World War I. It was an eye-opener for me, as I imagine my German immigrant great-grandparents (and their seven American children) had similar experiences, particularly with others treating them with suspicion. My great-grandparents owned and operated a dry goods store in north Chicago, and while both spoke English, I'm sure it was with heavy accents. My grandfather and his three brothers joined the military (although none of them saw action overseas), and it must have been particularly hard for my great-grandparents, to think of them possibly fighting their own kin back in Germany.
The characters in this book are well-developed, especially Hazel's parents, Johannes (John) and Katarina. The Baron, Georg von Richthofen was also interesting. Described as a cousin of the flying ace "The Red Baron," Manfred von Richthofen, I was surprised to learn that the latter's uncle and godfather, Walter von Richthofen, actually emigrated to the United States and settled in Denver, building a castle there modeled on the Richthofen castle in Germany (just as Georg did in Dogwood). The castle was finished in 1887 and still stands today, selling for about 3.5 million in 2012.
In a "Q&A with the Author" in the back of the book, Pamela Schoenewaldt says her castle was based on the Moldenke Castle from her high school years in Watchung, New Jersey, built by a Danish family about 1900 (burned in 1969). She also says that some of Hazel's background is based on that of Schoenewaldt's German immigrant paternal grandmother.
© Amanda Pape - 2015
[I received this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Plan to hang on to it for a while and re-read it later.]