Prairie Lights bookstore on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. (David Harmantas/The Daily Iowan)

Life on an Iowa farm during WWII


Iowa City resident Ethel Barker will read her latest book of historical fiction, The Andersens of Eden, at Prairie Lights today at 7 p.m. The book details life of a family changed because of the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

By Madison Lotenschtein

Stories of the Second World War are embedded in the fabric of some of the tales we tell. But from horrific scenes of the Holocaust to the Battle of the Bulge to the bombings of London, little has been told about the seemingly peaceful, seemingly innocent home front.

Ethel Barker, the author of The Andersens of Eden, will read from her latest historical-fiction book at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St., at 7 p.m. today.

Her story begins in a small, rural town in Iowa. Around a mile away, on a farm, lives the Andersen family. The two parents, five children, and two grandparents lead a simple life of hard-work, occasionally interrupted by unpredictable weather, exciting Friday and Saturday nights in town, and going to church.

The family sometimes huddles around its old radio, eagerly listening to the news of countries being trampled by Adolf Hitler’s armies, and President Roosevelt’s frequent promises to keep the United States out of the fighting.

Dad is worried because he has four healthy, strong boys, and he had fought in the war that was supposed to end all wars. Then, things abruptly change on Dec. 7, 1941, and the monotonous normalcy of the family’s day-to-day lives is over.

Two of the oldest boys, Clarence and Clifford, enlist, eager to fight the German and Japanese enemies.

“They were peace-loving people,” Barker said. “But they did go to war because of the evil on the other side.”

The book is not autobiographical, it is more of a tableau of Midwestern life before and during World War II. The author not only writes about what the family goes through but also delves into a world of descriptive language. She describes the food the family consumes, what is rationed, and how farming changes for the families.

Barker never intended to become an author by any means, but she found inspiration and time during her retirement from reading education. Her story of the Iowa family during the Second World War derives from her childhood, living on a farm, and other accounts from her friends and cousins. Barker was 6 years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

“In my earlier years, I took writing classes for fun and eventually joined a writing group where we share each other’s work,” Barker said.

Barker has previously shown her passion for historical fiction through her other book, For the Love of Pete: An Orphan Train Story.

Some students attending the University of Iowa come from small, rural communities, and they may be veiled from any war-like violence, just as the Andersen family was. Only their loved ones who cross the sea can see what war is really like. But the thread that ties these two ages together is that all  of humanity is affected by the horrible deeds of violence and warfare.

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