Before this century, farming was a way of life for many Americans. In the 1920s, 20% of our workforce labored on farms. Now it is less than 2%.  This novel, the first of a trilogy, covers the lives of an extended agricultural family, the Langdons, from the 1920s to the 1950s.

In 1920 Walter Langdon, a young 25-year-old walks the land of his new farm. His father thought he didn’t need to start on his own yet, but Walter disagreed. He had a wife after all--the beautiful and practical, Rosanna--and now a six-month-old son, the treasured Frank. As the first grandchild in the family, he receives tons of love and praise.

The novel covers a cycle of births, deaths, marriages, and children coming of age for two generations. The pace is slow, the characterization, deep, and you feel that you are really experiencing life as it was lived on an Iowa farm.


Rosanna eventually gives birth to six. In one case, midwifing her own baby. Frank is the most spoiled and most self-confident. Joe, next in line, is a weird kid, not good at expressing himself and very attached to animals--a fault in a farmer--at least back then. Then there is Mary Elizabeth, a beauty and very kind. She is followed by Lillian, Henry, and Claire Anna. Within a day of their births, Rosanna sees each child as unique and has their personalities down.

Over the time span, there are several periods, not unlike our own, of droughts and weather anomalies that the family must suffer through. There’s a one-room schoolhouse where Frank battles bullies with a mouse-trap and soon has no one picking on him. 

Frank and Joe both raise lambs, but Joe is more diligent and attached and his ewe goes to the State Fair. There Joe flirts with a girl for the first time, or the girl flirts with him. He spends a lot of his second-place prize money on root beers for her.

As the children grow, some stay on the farm; others, leave.  Frank joins the army during WWII and eventually moves to several cities back east, including New York City.

This slow measured book is rich with history and life. If you’ve ever wondered how it felt to grow up on an American farm, this book will nail it for you. It also is rich with history: the depression, World War II, the beginnings of the cold war. It you enjoy it, try the next two in the Last Hundred Year trilogy, Early Warning and Golden Age.