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Wolf Willow

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  440 ratings  ·  64 reviews
Wallace Stegner weaves together fiction and nonfiction, history and impressions, childhood remembrance and adult reflections in this unusual portrait of his boyhood. Set in Cypress Hills in southern Saskatchewan, where Stegner's family homesteaded from 1914 to 1920, Wolf Willow: A History, a Story & a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier brings to life both the pioneer c ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published December 1st 2000 by Penguin Classics (first published October 28th 1962)
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Community Reviews

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"The plain spreads southward below the Trans-Canada Highway, an ocean of wind-troubled grass and grain. It has its remembered textures: winter wheat heavily headed, scoured and shadowed as if schools of fish move in it; spring wheat with its young seed-rows as precise as combings in a boy's wet hair; gray-brown summer fallow with the weeds disked under; and grass, the marvelous curly prairie wool tight to the earth's skin, straining the wind as the wheat does, but in its own way, secretly."

This book has no right to be so absorbing. Though the topic of this forgotten book by Wallace Stegner reeks of self-indulgence-- A writer returns to where he grew up, reminisces about his youth and the history of the frontier town his transient childhood most identified as home and concludes with a 100-page fictionalized account of a the terrible winter of 1906-- he manages to tie his past inexorably to ours, linking his nostalgia for his youth with our own, and exploring the promise and inevita ...more
This wonderful collection of essays and fiction about the last Western frontier is both romance and anti-romance. Writing in the 1950s, Stegner captures the breath-taking beauty of the unbroken plains of southwest Saskatchewan and the excitement of its settlment at the turn of the century. Part memoir, the book recounts the years of his boyhood in a small town along the Whitemud River in 1914-1919, the summers spent on the family's homestead 50 miles away along the Canadian-U.S border. His book ...more
Wolf Willow is a personal memoir by Wallace Stegner, whose fiction and non-fiction writings capture a deep sense of the western places he called home during the early part of his life. The book takes its title from a willow particular to the Cypress Hills, the area of southern Saskatchewan where Stegner spent part of his early years. Unlike many memoirists and fiction writers from small, rural towns, Stegner writes not as one who was cynical and embitterered by the experience. Rather, he recogni ...more
As a westerner madly in love with mountains, deserts and history of my homeland, I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I haven't delved much into Wallace Stegner. I've read a tiny bit of his non-fiction, and none of his novels, but everybody who's anybody west of the 100th meridian knows all about this guy and recommends him...

And now I think I get it. Stegner nails the "sense of place" thing with this one, a combination of history and memoir, with an unforgettable novella dropped in smack dab
A quiet and remarkable tome comprising an unusual range of styles in fiction, essays, and historical musings. I was not able to read every word as some of the subject matter went beyond the bounds of my interest in prairie life. However, the first few chapters as well as some of the fiction and the epilogue contained some of the most meaningful prose I've ever read. Given the sensitivity and incisiveness of his writing, I am puzzled that Wallace Stegner is not more commonly mentioned in conversa ...more
David Jacobson
This book starts our very slowly with a self-important introduction and several dry, historical chapters. However, the book really comes into its own in the hundred-page-long chapter, about halfway through, called "Genesis"; it is essentially a little novel in its own right, focusing on a of group cowboys (all excellently rendered characters) traveling across the plains during a terrible blizzard in 1906. The book then concludes with a few chapters of reminiscences from the author's youth, homes ...more
First published in 1962, this "memoir" is part history, part biography, part story of the relationship between peoples and landscape. It is an account the Cypress Hills, in southwestern Saskatchewan, where Stegner lived as a young boy, moving there when his father homesteaded a quarter of a section of land for wheat farming 1914. Stegner was five. Drought killed his father's dreams of becoming a wheat farmer, and by 1920 the family moved to Great Falls, Montana then to Salt Lake City. This colle ...more
I loved Big Rock Candy Mountain, and this was a natural successor. Wolf Willow is not only a journey of nostalgia but also the natural history of a remote area that Stegner felt was instrumental in his development as a person. It seems from other reviews that people have a difficult time with the diversity of the writings in the book -- some personal musings, some natural history, some Canadian history, and a short story. I felt that Stegner set it up perfectly, giving the reader a backdrop of t ...more
Mike Harper
Stegner can sure write!
I found this book difficult. There are passages downright lyrical, and lengthy parts for which I did not care.
One long chapter is historical fiction, and that's very good. It's about a cattle roundup, and it's a harrowing, realistic story. Much of the book deals with Stegner's thoughts about his boyhood home in Saskatchewan, and that part is mixed. I'd have been bored by it, but for the wonderful prose.
Stegner's great novels are the place to start. After you're a committe
I almost quit reading this so many times! It took me 7 months to get through it, though it's only 300 pages. I was quite bored with much of it. I think the only reason I persevered was because it was Wallace Stegner, and I love his other stuff. The man can really write. This book is part historical fiction, part memoir, and part history...a rather eclectic and unpleasant mix for me. I like to keep fact and fiction distinctly separate, because I hate having to guess which is which. It has an odd ...more
Wolf Willow book is a memoir, history, and novel piled into one. I think I saw it called a "librarian's nightmare" one time. The brilliance of the technique is that straddling these three styles best conveys to the reader what it is/was like living in a certain place. Stegner speaks about his memories in revisiting a town where he lived for awhile as a child; he also pulls in all sorts of interesting facts about American Indians in the region, wolfers, mounties, settlers, and topographers to com ...more
Rachel Terry
Wallace Stegner is one of my top 10 favorite writers (don't ask me who the others are--I haven't thought that far ahead). In this book, Stegner returns to Saskatchewan where he lived as a child from 1914 to 1920. He wants to substantiate his childhood memories and learn about the area's impact on his life. He goes farther than his own memories by interviewing other people and researching the area. His insights are powerful. This book really made me think.

The reason I only gave it 4 stars is beca
Ronald Wise
I began reading this "autobiography" with great anticipation and was not disappointed. Stegner had already proven himself to me as a master storyteller when it came to portraying the spirit and hardships of the westward-bound pioneers of North America in his earlier autobiographical novel The Bis Rock Candy Mountain (1943) and his later Pulitzer-Prize winning biographical novel Angle of Repose (1971). This book is considered his non-fiction autobiography, though it, too, is a wonderful mixture o ...more
Jeffrey  Sylvester
Being from Southwest Saskatchewan, and having descended from a vast array of prairie settlers, I was drawn to “Wolf Willow” for nostalgic reasons.

Similar to “Nellie McClung” by Charlotte Gray, Stegner’s work helped me to envision what life was like for my forebears whether they had suffered deprivation or were well-to-do.

As a history curious kid, Fort Walsh was always my favourite haunt whether in comparison to Mt. Rushmore, the ghost towns of British Columbia or Writing-on-Stone-Park in Alber
Rey Dekker
Wolf Willow Viking Press, 1955 Penguin Books (New York, London; 1990) Stegner, Wallace Earle (1909 - 1993)

As an adjunct to the HIST431 course the book has merit. I especially enjoyed the opening pages where Stegner turns some memorable phrases: "...rattle the eyes in your head" (p. 3) and "In a jumpy and insecure childhood where all masculine elements are painful or dangerous, sanctuary matters." (p. 22). So far so good. Then the author abruptly veers into Louis L'amour Land specifically in the
Oct 26, 2009 Diane rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Miltons
Recommended to Diane by: John OConnor
Thanks to John at Bonners Books for this book. Wallace spent several years of his youth living around Cypress Hills in Saskatchewan on the Montana and Alberta borders. The book is part memoir, part Canada History and part novella. The memoir and the history happily intermingle.I loved the memoir parts since my parents grew up in Alberta and this summer we spent an afternoon trying to find the my grandfather's and later my uncle's farm. I also enjoyed Wallace's take on Canadian - actually western ...more
I have decided to call this a biography of a place. Wallace Stegner spent some very formative years growing up in a small town and homestead just north of the US-Canadian border. The town that Stegner calls Whitemud (actually Eastend, Saskatchewan) is just forming as he arrives with his family in about 1915. The outer shell of the book is his return as an adult. Then a layer of his family's experiences. The next layer is the history of the area--from the geology, to the arrival of the horse and ...more
Sarah Sammis
I wish I could remember the name of every author and every book I've ever read. I can't. My memory is reliable for about a year's worth of reading. After that only the most remarkable books (good and bad) stick. To aid my memory I have a list of everything I've read going back to 1987. Despite my list keeping I'm still surprised sometimes when I "rediscover" an author. I've mentioned this happening with Neil Gaiman and now it's happened with Wallace Stegner.

Wallace Stegner was a Canadian author
Aug 06, 2011 Alan added it
Autobiographical and Canadian History. Wallace Stegner returns to the plains of Western Saskatchewan where hsi family spent 5 years homesteading. While walking around the town where they wintered, 50 miles from the homestead, he smells a familiar smell, which when he identifies it and inhales the smell of wolf willow, he is transported back into his youth just like Proust and the madelaine. He gives the history of Western incursions into these desolate and unforgiving plains. An illuminating acc ...more
Yumiko Hansen
-- I would have never picked up this book by myself in a bookshop; "A BIG THANK YOU " to my darling Dale who gave me this book !!! It took me a while to adjust myself to the way Stegner writes and places I've never been to, but as I read more, I was totally fascinated by the story.

I think that the best part of the story is his ability to describe the places he grew up as a child - you ( at least I did) can picture the hill, you can smell wolf willow and the muddy banks of Octber river from where
Ann Holland
Stegner returns to the town in southern Saskatchewan where his family lived when he was a boy and reflects on his childhood in the pioneer community.
It is an alright read though I would have liked to hear more of the author's experiences rather than his delving into the local and national (Canadian) history.
This is the most beautiful book. Stegner's memoir of his childhood in southern Saskatchewan captures the beauty of the landscape, the harshness of the climate and the drama of the people settling the land. You can hear the meadowlarks, see the crocuses and smell the prairie sage as you read this book. The book is also an insightful social history of this region of Canada including the history of the RCMP, the displacement of Aboriginal persons and the creation of the Canadian border. A must read ...more
Mark Egge
Meditation on on the idea of a frontier, and part memoir, part fictional account of life on one of north America's last frontiers.
Have to read another by Stegner to see if he is as perfect as I thought from the first book I read.

I have to admit, there were a couple of spots where I had trouble concentrating and had to re-read things. However, I ended up loving the book. Perhaps part of the love is the fact that I spent my grammar school and high school years in Regina, just north of the location of this book. I could identify with so much of what Stegner painted with his words. The trials of the cowboys in the dead of wint
Stegner's son Page calls this book history, reminiscence, and drama. Stegner himself said it was a librarian's nightmare, unclassifiable. All I know is, like most Stegner, it is chock full of wonderful prose and a story wonderfully told. In much of the book he remembers, and wishes he knew more of the place and it's significance while he was living there as a boy in 1914-1920. He devotes a goodly part of the book to an event which changed the area irrevocably just before they moved there in anot ...more
Not my favorite Stegner book. It's an odd mix of non-fiction and fiction. I liked the non-fiction section on the history of southern Saskatchewan best.
Kay Whelan
A cultural geography, history, memoir; Stegner is a fantastic writer, he never lets me down.
Having been raised in this part of the world on the Montana side of the border, this book really struck home with me. Not only is he a great writer, he has the ability to capture the essence of a place that, to many who go there, seems like the end of the world, but to those who know, it is a paradise disguised as desolation. The history revealed in this book was very interesting and, although I have a keen interest in the history of the west, I have not seen in such detail or with such a human ...more
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Wallace Earle Stegner (February 18, 1909—April 13, 1993) was an American historian, novelist, short story writer, and environmentalist. Some call him "The Dean of Western Writers."
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“No one who has studied Western history can cling to the belief that the Nazis invented genocide.” 13 likes
“A muddy little stream, a village grown unfamiliar with time and trees. I turn around and retrace my way up Main Street and park and have a Coke in the confectionery store. It is run by a Greek, as it used to be, but whether the same Greek or another I would not know. He does not recognize me, nor I him. Only the smell of his place is familiar, syrupy with old delights, as if the ghost of my first banana split had come close to breathe on me.” 3 likes
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