#REVIEW: The Meaning of Names, by Karen Gettert Shoemaker

I’m not entirely sure that my thoughts about this book are going to rise to the level of a full review, but here we go: this book is a story about (mostly) a German immigrant family in Nebraska in 1918, at the tail end of World War I, a war that, let me remind you, was fought over absolutely nothing. It’s kind of astonishing how angry reading about World War I makes me; there is an argument to be made (in another post, mind you) that it was at least one of history’s most pointless wars, and literally not a single soul who died or was injured in that war made that sacrifice for anything at all. Everyone just got involved because they were supposed to, and then suddenly we have thousands of men dying over inches in fields where the mud is so deep the horses are drowning in it. Over nothing.


I said a German immigrant family, mind you, and if you’re suspecting that German speakers might have faced some bigotry in Nebraska during a time when America was at war with Germany, you’d be suspecting correctly. So this book is already about a war that makes me irrationally angry to read about, then drop a load of bigotry on top of that.

And, uh, do you happen to remember what else happened in 1918? Oh, right, a global pandemic caused by an extremely contagious respiratory disease! One that people blamed on … immigrants! Or, at least, they blamed on immigrants when they weren’t pretending the whole thing was a hoax! There’s even a bit where the local doctor tells someone to wear a mask when he’s in public and he scoffs at it.

(The book was written in 2014, by the way, so this parallel was unintentional.)

Now, here’s the thing: the book is good! It’s well-written, and the plot and the characters and all that are well done. But Christ this book was hard to read, and … like, can I get away with saying that the book wasn’t annoying but reading it annoyed me anyway? And in a way that I absolutely don’t blame on the book or the author. Again, this is a good book and you should read it. Just … ignore the fact that I’m probably never picking it up again.

I’m going to be out of town for the next couple of days, as we’re going to the northern Chicago suburbs to have early Thanksgiving dinner with my brother, sister-in-law and my new nephew. There will be the standard view-from-my-hotel post tomorrow, but expect relative quiet. In the meantime, I’ll be up way too late tonight streaming Elden Ring from 10:00 to 1:00 am EST, so you should absolutely check that out.