March 27, 2018

Reader Reviews

“The best novel I read in years – a must read.”

-Christiane Grieb

“Spellbinding! I couldn’t put the book down. Thanks for the historical insight.”

-Rose-Anne Williams

“A moving and remarkable story of a family’s place in history. The characters and story stayed with me long after I finished the book. Beautifully written.”

-Kim Aker

Bob and I just finished your novel and we were totally taken aback. Your writing was succinct and gripping describing the tragedy and struggles of not only the Gerein family, but the entire community. The historical aspect of the novel brought to light the unbelievable challenges of those left behind in Russia and the brutality they faced. Your depiction of Hans, with his unfulfilled dreams, heartbreak, and enduring love for family and friends as a driving force brought us both to tears. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful story with us.

-Arlene Tessier

Wow, this is an amazing book. The words are evocative…I could see the family situations unfolding, the fear and the circumstances so well described. Also, a good job with the dialogue…I could hear the characters speaking. The separation of the brothers was most heart-wrenching, as it is in many other scenes. The writing is enjoyable and moves along so well. I learned a lot about history, too.

-Sandra Hayes-Gardiner, author of, “One Life – Growing up in the Pas”

I read DEAR AMERICAN BROTHER, and found it riveting. It cost me three nights of sleep. I could not put it down the first time I read it. The story realism is unbelievable. I took longer the second time I read it and discovered a story that is realistic, well researched, and a trip down memory lane from my history classes in school. If a person wants a story about a small community, the trials and hardships of a life that went off kilter, THIS IS THE BOOK. This book now has made the rounds of family and friends with the same results; they all loved it. I highly recommend this book.

-Kelly Toombs

5 Stars! Would make an excellent screen play! Although a work of fiction it is so relevant to many events that are happening in present day. Being a Canadian whose ancestral history is Germans from Russia, this book gives me great insight as to how their courage & strength & determination to survive & their choices made my life a possibility. My paternal grandfather was a Gerein who’s family immigrated to North Dakota in the late 1800’s. My grandmother’s family immigrated from the same part of Russia in 1910. The timeline, the places & characters in this book are a fairly accurate accounting of my family’s history! Thank you Joe Elder…very enjoyable!

-Pat Blackwell

Joe Elder has written a powerful historical novel concerning German colonists who arrived in part of the Russian Empire during the 19th century. The compelling characters and plot cover the tumultuous, tragic events of WWI, the Russian Revolution and some decades later the end of WWII. Much of the book deals with horrific persecution of the German settler minority in the aftermath of the Lenin led revolution. The carefully developed plot continues until the arrival of the Nazi forces and then to their complete defeat by the Soviet army. The end of WWII, ironically, brings even more suffering and displacement to these unfortunate people.

Mr. Elder’s excellent novel provides an intense and detailed exploration of these brutal, tragic times. I was drawn into this novel, and kept involved with Hans and the other characters until the abrupt and shocking end of the book. I felt at the end of the novel as though I had learned a great deal about a relatively little known population during some of the worst periods of modern history.

-Mitch W.

DEAR AMERICAN BROTHER, taking place among historical events during war years in Eastern Europe, is gripping from the start and fosters contemplation throughout. The story portrays a depth and measure of the human journey, in particular, of German people living in Russia, and their subsequent displacement from the homeland settled by their forefathers decades earlier. The narrative offers the reader the opportunity to view the world of the past from one personal perspective. It details the physical and emotional impact on individuals, and their struggles to survive harassment, persecution, and torture. This work gives voice for a society of people and how they lived, and died, in circumstances beyond their control. More than historical literature can do, the story invokes a sincere appreciation for the plight of entire families who experienced separations, and profound suffering in times of terror, hopelessness and despair. DEAR AMERICAN BROTHER would be a meaningful contribution to historical heritage collections. Expertly done. Definitely a must read.

-Marilyn Siminoski

I thoroughly enjoyed DEAR AMERICAN BROTHER! I liked how the character of Hans Gerein was depicted, his strength and determination made me proud to be a Gerein. The story of their struggles and challenges made me realize how much my family went through to get to freedom. I enjoyed the language and the use of the German words. The book also mentioned my grandmother’s family name, Silbernagel. Now I am even more curious about the story, facts versus fiction… Will there be a Part Two? I felt the book was well written and kept me reading. At times, it seemed I was right there, watching the story. Thank you to Joe Elder for all his research and the gift of this book.

-Shirley Gerein

I read DEAR AMERICAN BROTHER a few weeks ago and loved it. I felt compelled to write a quick review of the book. My forefathers immigrated from Germany to the same region in Russia where the story is based. Later they moved to Canada, but I don’t often think about what life was like for the German-Russian people who remained behind. The language used is similar to what I heard in our village, “ya-naih, ach, yop filla mut,” etc. and I understood how their beliefs influenced decisions. In addition, the story is funny, with happy family relationships, and of course heartbreaking in many instances. Tears were shed while reading parts of the book. The story is well researched, well written and a joy to read. A real page-turner. Thank you.

-Theresa Mowat

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, DEAR AMERICAN BROTHER. It is a very entertaining book written in a way that holds the reader’s interest. But for me it was also an educational book. Joe Elder’s research taught me so much about the Germans who lived in Russia at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution which resulted in a mass immigration to the USA and Canada. I believe my ancestors immigrated to Canada during that time period. So Joe’s book gave me some insight into what life would have been like for my forefathers. I highly recommend this book.

-C. Norman Fehr

Coming from a German-Russian community in Saskatchewan with ancestors from the Black Sea area, I found this book especially riveting. Appreciated the detail in history that went into the narrative. Congratulations and thank you.

-Mark Gerein

A review by Michael Cranley

In DEAR AMERICAN BROTHER, Joe Elder details an atrocious era of history during the first half of the twentieth century, a time plagued with devastating world tragedies and appalling treatment of mankind. DEAR AMERICAN BROTHER sheds light on the horrible treatment of a portion of the East European population that were caught in the struggle between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. This unfortunate population included people of German descent who had taken up residence in Russia in the 1800’s to farm newly acquired land. The story is told through the eyes of Johannes (Hans) Gerein who, as the story unfolds in 1914, is an eleven year-old boy. The story concludes with Gerein as a 42 year-old in a holding camp for displaced citizens just after the American occupation of Berlin. In those 31 years, Gerein is displaced, imprisoned, and deals with several family losses and tragedies resulting from the harsh political climate. His goal, throughout the entire story, is to reunite with his brother Kurt who immigrated to America in 1914. They exchange letters infrequently but the desire lingers. Hans has to put the desires to rest as he deals with the harshness of the Communist Rule and the difficulties of providing the basic necessities of life resulting from that rule. Hans Gerein is a hero. During times of starvation and hardship, he does whatever is possible to make life better for family members and close friends. He struggles through famine, inadequate housing, and time in a work camp for political prisoners. Throughout the story, Hans is constantly faced with tough decisions pitting his own survival against the survival of friends and family. He questions his ethics and morals frequently. Joe Elder’s book is a reminder of the difficulties that much of our world has faced in the last two centuries. It also reminds us what has to be done in an attempt to survive such oppression. It is a book about inspiration and determination. It is a reminder that we should never put away our dreams and goals.

-Michael Cranley

A review by Merv Weiss

DEAR AMERICAN BROTHER is a story of two brothers from the Kutschurgan District of South Russia who, as young boys, become separated in 1914 when one of them unwillingly immigrates with an uncle to North Dakota.  It is told from the perspective of Hans, who remained in Russia, all the while yearning to join his brother. The background of the historical framework has been superbly researched. Most of the inter-connected characters and the events have been fictionalized, but DEAR AMERICAN BROTHER remains true to the tragedies which befell the Germans in Russia during the critical 30-year period 1914 to 1945:  the 1917 Communist Revolution, the process of collectivization, two famines, the Stalin purges of all “criminal” elements, the evacuation of their home villages, and finally, the panicked rush to “the west” in an attempt to escape the Red Army in the early months of 1945.

Hans believes his life is a progression of bad luck. Soon after his brother’s departure for North America, their father is conscripted into the Czar’s army to help defend the “homeland”.  He never returns, and the responsibility of holding the family together falls to Hans and his grandparents.  His life becomes increasingly difficult, first as he suffers the loss of his grandfather in the “infamous” 1919 massacre in Selz, then the arrest of he and his wife for anti-communist activity.  Hans escapes from the Gulag and manages to return to his home village; his wife serves her sentence, only to perish during the famine of 1932. Finally, he becomes separated from his young daughter during their flight from the communists in 1945. All of these tragic events come alive through Elder’s characters.

The author skillfully keeps the reader moving on to the next chapter. The historical accuracy of this powerful story will appeal to the most discerning readers and is well worth reading.  Well done, Mr. Elder.

-Merv Weiss