Tuesday, August 4, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

As a child, I read The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and had a typical reaction to them. I wanted to be a pioneer girl. I absorbed all the romance of the frontier spirit of that little girl, admiring her pluck and wanting to be able to do all the old-fashioned, simpler-times things she could do. The tribulations she faced made the reading more exciting but, like young Laura, I felt secure that the adults in her world would take care of the adult problems while she fought her own more minor battles.

As an adult, I re-read the series with my own daughter and loved the books all over again. This time, I was able to read between the lines and recognize the tragedy and hardship that lay underneath the optimism of the child.

These are wonderful, wonderful books. Each time I’ve read them, I wished there were more. And though I understand the concept of ‘historical fiction,’ like many readers, I was curious to know how much was fact and how much was fiction.

In Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Caroline Fraser explores the life and times of Laura Ingalls Wilder and gives a more factual account. Meticulously researched and cleanly written, Fraser brings that frontier girl back to life, fixing the chronology, filling in the gaps, and analyzing the factors that shaped the life of the amazing author of the Little House books. The foibles of the Ingalls family, the struggles faced by Laura and Almanzo in their adult life, and the controversy over the shared editing process between Laura and her daughter, Rose, are addressed in a straightforward fashion. Bringing this all out does nothing to tarnish the image of the fictional/semi-autobiographical pioneer girl, but rather rounds out the life of the author and helps to demonstrate how impressive her achievements truly were. 

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