In Search of Anna by VALERIE VOLK

 

She is the one I really want; that wandering spirit, the woman who    gave birth to my grandfather and could not let him go, even when    he had separated himself from her, from the land of his birth, and    from all that he had known.

It’s a long way from a small southern German village to a farm in New South Wales, but in 1889 Anna Werner sets off alone on a   foolish mission, to search for her son who has disappeared in   Australia. From Hamburg to the exuberance of the ‘Marvellous   Melbourne’ of the 1800s and the immigrant life of the Riverina   German farming community of Jindera, Anna discovers as much   about herself as she does about the thriving country she encounters.

In Search of Anna is based on the true story of one woman’s long and perilous journey from the small German village of Lewin, to the   farms of Jindera in Australia. It has been extensively researched and   is full of vivid detail about life in Germany and Australia during the   1800s. It is a sensitive exploration of the relationship between   mothers and sons, and tells of a woman’s search for herself.

 

Read more reviews below...open and collapse each review by   clicking on the title.

REVIEW: Dr Mark Worthing, author of Iscariot and The Winter Fae

“In crisp, evocative prose, undergirded by meticulous historical research, Volk takes us through the story of the life of Anna. Her story spans two continents and several generations.  It is an Australian migrant story that brings to life one of the many forgotten faces from the old, oval framed photographs that still decorate our hallways. It is a haunting tale of heartbreak and loss, interspersed with episodes of love and hope. It is a story that is hard to put down.”

REVIEW: Peter Goldsworthy

‘When a poet as fine as Valerie Volk focuses that gift on history and family lore the sum is bound to be even greater than the parts.’.

Peter Goldsworthy

REVIEW: Katharine England  in The Advertiser, SAWeekend Magazine, 24 May, 2019 - Books Page

Adult Fiction     IN SEARCH OF ANNA   Valerie Volk: Wakefield Press $29.99

Adelaide poet Valerie Volk set out to research a fascinating family story: that her great-grandmother, an ordinary peasant woman in Silesia, now part of Poland, in 1889 set out across the world to find her son, a ship's engineer who had vanished in Australia. Using an outline of historical fact, painstaking research and a vibrant poetic imagination, Volk has reproduced her life and journey in an utterly convincing voice and a wealth of fascinating period detail. This is no laboured history: Volk's research subtly underpins the lively story of a middle-aged woman braving the world in the burgeoning - and sometimes unreliable - age of steam to land in Marvellous Melbourne in its heyday.   *****

REVIEW: Eileen Torney  in tamba  65 Spring/Summer2019   Page 58

In Search of Anna  - a novel by Valerie Volk   Wakefield Press, 2019

Congratulations, Valerie, on a great book.

By using Anna, in the first person, the writer can explore her feelings, mistakes, successes and observations. By transforming an account based on an old family story of the desperate search her great-grandmother made for her lost son in the Australian colonies into an historical novel, she has breathed life into Anna, who was born in Silesia in the latter decades of the 1800s.The kindness and education extended to her by the Countess widens her perspective and we see through her eyes the unification of Germany under Bismarck, discussion of new ideas such as kindergartens (children's gardens) and, through her husband and later her son, the importance of steam power and the development of railways and steamships. Valerie's research brings alive both rural life and that of cities in Germany  and in Melbourne and in the German communities in Australia. Fact and fiction blend to give life and authenticity to a woman who discovers herself, yet the most surprising elements of this story are the true facts of the journey undertaken by this devoted mother.

I strongly recommend this book. I could not put it down, and once finished I kept dipping back into it again.

REVIEW: Robin Hillard  in Polestar Writers'  Journal  38 June, 2020   Pages 66-67

In Search of Anna   -  Valerie Volk. Wakefield Press 2019

 Valerie Volk’s story about Anna, her great-grandmother, is set in the late nineteenth century and moves from Silesia, in a small German village which is now in Poland, to the colonies that will become Australia. The result is a lovely historical novel, filled with fascinating detail about the period and a deeply moving story about one woman’s life.

 Volk’s meticulous research provides what she calls “bare bones of a remarkable tale” as Anna travels across the world to find her son. She “used her writer’s prerogative” to add “her character, her background, her family relationships and her connection with people during this saga.”

 Nothing, in the story handed down by the family, can explain the vision that enabled “an ordinary peasant woman” to undertake such a journey but Volk uses her imagination to provide a credible explanation. As she was growing up, Anna was favoured by the mistress of a neighbouring Chateau, who introduced her more cultured world.

 Like many young people who have an ephemeral contact with refined society, Anna was no longer comfortable among her peers. She fell in love, became pregnant, and was abandoned by a man who was too well born to marry a village girl. This is not just a convenient authorial device to allow the narrator to discuss topics beyond the range of a simple peasant, it is the driving force of Anna’s story.

 We can imagine the girl’s unhappiness and sympathise as she reflects on the impassioned political conversations she had with her lover. We understand too, her husband’s resentment of the girl he was bribed to marry. Trapped in a loveless marriage, Anna builds her life around her son.

 The early parts of Anna’s story are fiction, but they ring true. What follows next is less believable. Kurt, her much loved son, joins the crew of a steam ship, deserts in Melbourne and disappears. The widowed Anna leaves her village and travels, by herself, to Hamburg where she boards a ship to the colony. She arrives in Melbourne, is fortunate enough to find helpful friends and is eventually reunited with her lost son. Volk has uncovered the truth behind the family story of Anna’s journey.

 Shipping records show Kurt did sign on as ship’s engineer on the Hohenzollern 1887, and Anna did follow him as a passenger on the Elberfeld in 1889. Volk found the newspaper advertisement that led to her finding her son, and stories published over the following years provide details of Anna’s life as a member of the Lutheran community in Jindera, New South Wales.

 In one of the most interesting passages in the book, Volk describes the passengers’ experience during the voyage. Anna shared a tiny cabin, with double bunks on either side and space between “for one of us to dress at a time.” They hung their clothes on ropes suspended from the bunks. Single men were accommodated at one end of the ship, married couples and families had cabins in the middle, with single women at the other end. Anna notes that when single women try to linger over their meals in the saloon where they could chat to the young men, they got sharp looks from the matron “and a warning talk later.”

 In Melbourne Anna boards with Mrs Clark who “lets out rooms to ladies.” Volk was able to visit the house and climb “the narrow stairs to the upper rooms where she lodged.” Anna stays in Melbourne while she plans her next move and we see the bustling city through her eyes.

 Kurt answers the advertisement and Anna travels to Jindera, in New South Wales, where she becomes part of the close-knit Lutheran community. Volk’s writer’s imagination and careful research combine to give us a wonderful picture of her life in the small country town.

 In Search of Anna is full of fascinating detail about the world in the nineteenth century and allows us to share the sorrows and joys of an extraordinary woman.

REVIEW: Helen Schubert  in FoLA News  September,2019   Page 2

 

Review: In Search of Anna  Helen Schubert  FoLA News, September 2019   p.2

(This article is based on an address to the Friends of Lutheran Archives on 29 April, 2019)

In her book Valerie Volk created a work of fiction with her great-grandmother Anna as the central character. For many years a miniature portrait of Anna hung in Valerie’s home, but apart from that she had little actual information about her ancestor Anna Werner (a married  name) In the portrait Anna has a child on her knee, but Valerie never knew for certain who the child was. Perhaps the child was Kurt, Anna’s much-loved son who left for Australia as a young man in 1887 and seemed to have disappeared. Starting with the question, What if? Valerie began by imagining what kind of life Anna might have had in Germany in the 1800s, what experiences she might have had on her journey to Australia and in particular what Melbourne, Albury and Jindera were like in the 188os when Anna visited them.

The Germany of the 1880s was a new creation, not a mere collection of states, as it was when the first Lutherans came to Australia, but under the leadership of Bismarck it had become a unified country. Steam trains were replacing other forms of transport, including the barges on the extensive network of rivers and canals, The first steam ships (still with masts and sails in case of breakdowns) could outstrip the clipper ships that had set records for speed in their time. Anna’s fictional husband works as a train driver, and her real son Kurt is depicted as working on the steam ship Hohenzollern, the official German mail ship that takes him to Australia in 1887. The Elberfeld on which Anna came to Australia two years later, only took 14 weeks to make the journey, despite a delay of about a month because a broken propeller near Spain meant that the ship had to go back to Cardiff for repairs, and more propeller trouble in the Red Sea slowed the ship for the rest of the voyage. (Both ships were real ships.) Industrialisation was being at last established at a great rate, and factories began to displace cottage industries (such as carved wooden spoons), a change not always welcomed by the workers. The Weavers’ revolt in Silesia was one such protest that actually occurred and is mentioned in the book. All these events are skilfully woven into Anna’s story. Valerie went to Germany herself, and visited the small town of Lewin in which the imagined Anna lives as a married woman. She also traced her route from there to Hamburg, where Anna embarked on the ship to Australia.

At the same time, in Australia in the 1880s Melbourne was growing rapidly as a result of the gold rush, and became known as Marvellous Melbourne until the crash came in 1891. The government provided establishments to accommodate the large influx of immigrants while they looked for a more permanent place to live. One such was Richmond House, and the real Anna stayed nearby at a real address in Richmond, at 175 Swan Street, which is now a French restaurant. When Valerie visited there, the restauranteur took her up the stairs that Anna had climbed every day to her rented room in the few weeks she lived there. There was a good number of Germans among the newcomers, seven different German clubs where they could enjoy social activities and a number of German bakeries offering cakes and pastries as well as traditional breads to cater for German tastes.

Albury, being on the route from Melbourne to Sydney, became a thriving town, while Jindera was a rural village and home to many German settlers. Valerie’s grandparents, on both sides of the family, maternal and paternal, lived there for most of their lives. Her grandfather Kurt, Anna’s son, became the local blacksmith.

Wagner’s Store is now the Jindera Pioneer Museum, and the shelves behind the counter are packed with tins, jars, bottles used for various household necessities and remedies in demand at many country general stores. It could be much like it was when Anna was there. Anna stayed in Jindera for less than a decade, then returned to Germany by herself, and died there in 1899.

The houses in Jindera resemble the traditional houses back in Silesia. Although Valerie’s parents moved to Melbourne soon after they married, they often brought their children back to visit both sets of grandparents who first lived in those traditional houses.

Valerie’s brother helped her by searching old newspapers on Trove. He found an advertisement that Anna Werner had submitted under Missing Friends in the Albury-Wodonga Banner of 1899 in an effort to trace her son Kurt, and a report of Anna’s death in Germany which appeared in the Wagga Wagga Express in 1899.

Because Valerie had so little information about her great-grandmother, she has fictionalised Anna’s character and made her four years younger than she was; she has given her thoughts and feelings which she may or may not have had, created several fictional men who courted or married her, created fictional characters for company on the ship to Australia, and created a fictional farmer – widowed with six children and in need of a wife to care for them – who helped her locate her real son in Jindera. At the same time she gives us an accurate picture of what it was like to live in those times in Germany and Australia based on thoroughly researched facts.

 Valerie Volk is an accomplished writer with a number of books to her name. She is a poet as well as a novelist. In Search of Anna is published by Wakefield Press, Mile End, SA.