Reading notes: Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer, The Farm in the Green Mountains 📚

Herdan-Zuckmayer, Alice. The Farm in the Green Mountains. Translated from German by Ida H. Washington and Carol E. Washington. New York Review of Books, 2017. Originally written 1948.

Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer, her husband (“Zuck”), and their children escaped Austria in the early 1940s. They arrived in the United States and settled for five years on a farm in Vermont. The Farm in the Green Mountains is a collection of essays adapted from Alice’s letters to friends back in Europe, telling them of her new life, so very different from that before exile. Where in Europe Alice and Zuck had been intellectuals, with servants to do the housework, in Vermont they learned to be farmers: cooking and cleaning, raising chickens and goats, chopping wood and drawing water. They find themselves among neighbors who have integrated the life of the farm and that of the mind. The two turn out to be not opposed, but complementary, and Alice’s concluding elegies to a college and its library bring the two together.

The essays are written simply and directly, with plain language setting out observations of everyday life. My favorites are “The Telephone” and “The Standard” (the latter referring to the town newspaper) describe the formation of close-knit communities among a thin rural population. Others tell of the upkeep of the farm animals, the mighty efforts required to warm the farmhouse in the Vermont winter, and the extraordinary difficulty of traveling through that winter on icy, dirt roads, in an era before electrification. The spectres of the Holocaust and of World War II are always in the background, but only in “The Rats” – about nothing more than a temporary infestation of vermin – is it clear how much of a hold the horrors in Europe still held over Alice and her family.

Joshua Beatty @joshuabeatty