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Prairie Fires: the American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Title: Prairie Fires: the American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder
By: Caroline Fraser

If you grew up like me, reading and re-reading the Little House books, you may find this book as fascinating as I did. Caroline Fraser has meticulously researched Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life, her writing, and that of her daughter Rose Wilder Lane (an important Libertarian). It turns out that the farm pioneer life as described in the iconic Little House series was a tad gilded. Laura’s actual life was even harder than depicted in the children's books. Although the books were described as autobiographical, Wilder modified parts of her childhood and youth or avoided them altogether in the retelling, which she began writing in her sixties. Her daughter Rose, a professional writer, did a lot of editing of her mother’s writing, and sometimes introduced nonfactual material to make the story more exciting.

Fraser does an excellent job of situating Laura and Rose in their historical, economic, and political times. I came away with an appreciation of the tremendous struggle Laura and her family made to succeed at small farming. Often they failed, and had to move on. Each failure was the death of a dream that this farm, this special place would continue to be their home. While I am sorry to learn that the “true” stories were a bit fictionalized, it is eye-opening to see them placed in context, and it makes a kind of sense that Wilder wanted to re-envision her past in a more positive light. (Ironically, writing about these early experiences proved to be far more financially rewarding for her than the farming.)

The book deservedly won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

View similarly tagged posts: biography

Posted on Oct. 14, 2018 at 1:40 a.m.

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