The Newlanders
Olin Johnson
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The Newlanders

Olin Johnson
364 pages
April 2001
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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Every American resident (except Native Americans) has ancestors who immigrated to the “teeming” shores of the New World. As a person with German, Irish, English, and Cherokee heritage, I was particularly appalled at the graphic descriptions of what your ancestor’s journey and mine was like. Reading this book will give everyone a greater appreciation of the rights and freedoms we so blithely enjoy and even take for granted.

The people running the immigrant system took advantage of the desperate situation of the people were fleeing by conning them into forking over large sums of money. Once they had them trapped on the boat, they inflated the prices of everything and mentioned that this and that were not included in the price of their tickets. It was the equivalent of today’s “fine print” in contracts to ensnare the unsuspecting and/or the uninformed. The fate that befell those who were unwary and trusting enough to be snookered into the conman's trap ranged from indentured servitude to white slavery, with an occasional pit stop at the threat of physical violence in the form of beatings.

Apart from the manipulations that these people suffered, there was also the matter of the grizzled, grubby existence that life on the ship forced them to become accustomed to. The annoyance of the proximity of the other passengers was outweighed only by the lack of “facilities” available to make said companions less odiferous.

In fact, if most of today’s Americans had to face the prospect of the journey so poignantly described by Olin Johnson, I have little doubt that they would not deign to make it. The reader can only come away from this book with renewed respect for what it took from our family members to get here. In addition, we thereby realize that we owe them a debt of gratitude for which there is no recompense.

The skill of portraying the slovenly ship so convincingly is testament to Johnson’s ability. However, the pacing is at times too slow. Overall, though, it is an enjoyable travel back in time and unequivocally the only way I would wish to make this particular trip.

© 2003 by Camden Alexander for Curled Up With a Good Book

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