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The Meaning of Names

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  538 ratings  ·  118 reviews
Stuart, Nebraska is a long way from the battlefields of Western Europe, but it is not immune to the horrors of the first Great War for Peace. Like all communities, it has lost sons and daughters to the fighting, with many more giving themselves over to the hatred only war can engender.

Set in 1918 in the farm country at the heart of America, The Meaning of Names is the sto
Paperback, 219 pages
Published March 1st 2014 by Red Hen Press
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3.95  · 
Rating details
 ·  538 ratings  ·  118 reviews

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Diane S ☔
Jun 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Gerta suffers a tragedy when she is young, one that will haunt her throughout her life. Leaving West Point, against the wishes of her father, she marries Fritz and they buy a farm, settling in Stuart, Nebraska.

The year is 1918 and the farming life is a hard one. With four young children Greta is constantly busy, inside and outside the house. Yet their family is strong, but is it strong enough to withstand the draft when Fritz's name come up and when anti-German sentiment rears its ugly head in t
Sep 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: wwi

Great book. You can tell that this was of a time and place that is very special to the author, and I'm guessing it is based on her own family. The characters drove the story during a time of twin turmoils in America's history, 1918. The first world war against Germany was turning the small town of Stuart, Nebraska, on its end with non-Germans becoming hostile against neighboring German Americans, even second generation Germans. The Spanish flu pandemic then turned the nation on its back,
Chris Blocker
Oct 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: un-mfa
Smaller presses are great. They put out tons of wonderful material every year. But the most captivating and well-worked stories often end up with the larger presses. It's as simple as survival of the fittest (or influence of the richest). There are always exceptions, of course. One notable exception in 2014 is Karen Gettert Shoemaker's The Meaning of Names. This little novel can go head to head with the big boys. It's eloquent, passionate, and entertaining. If you're wanting to get a head start ...more
Jeff Lacy
Jul 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
How do I start this review. There is so much to say. At how the sentences flow gently together like poetry. How the stories of Gerda and Dr. Gannoway are knitted together leading to the stories' conclusion. At the strength of the story-telling, and how the plot propels one forward, so interested in the lives of the characters--a character-driven story in which the reader melds into the story because the author's presence is barely noticeably. This is a novel that should be received with wide-spr ...more
Mar 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The best praise I think anyone can give a book is when they say they forget they were reading one. With this one, I did get that kind of wrapped up. The characters, what they feel for each other and the menaces that threaten them, seemed so real. It was pretty jarring to look up at the end and realize I was sitting on my bed, that Gerda and everyone else remained on the page. It tears you up to get that involved in a story when dark clouds are on the horizon, but it's also euphoric when the joys ...more
Sep 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Beautiful book with endearing characters. There are many disturbing parallels in this historical fiction to the discrimination immigrants (of color) are facing today. It's proof of how history repeats itself when forgotten. The story took a turn I wasn't expecting. I enjoyed most of the book though the chapters about the priest and doctor didn't seem productive to the plot. The plot lines did run together in the end however. Overall definitely a worthwhile,compelling and beautiful story and hist ...more
Beth Peyton
Jan 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was initially drawn to Karen Shoemaker’s book when I saw the cover on a friend’s Facebook page. An ominous storm gathering on the Nebraska plains, where the horizon is all sky. Beautiful and dark. And since it was published by Red Hen Press, who just published my friend’s eponymously titled book, The Gaffer, I decided to read it. I’m an old Nebraska gal myself.

Set in 1918-1919 in rural Nebraska, we follow Gerda, who farms outside of Stuart, Nebraska with her husband and children. Gerda becomes
Jul 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical, favorites
A beautiful, poetic novel that belongs in the company of Cather and Stegner and other favorites. I hope many readers discover this one. It's a quietly brilliant gem.
Jan 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: donny-s-bookclub
Beautifully written. Great characters. Alternate Title could be: Something Bad Is Going to Happen.
Megan Anderson
May 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
This novel was written by my friend’s mother, Karen Gettert Shoemaker, and is a fictional account of her actual ancestors. Knowing a bit about how the novel was researched and written beforehand made reading it such an interesting experience!

I love how detailed this period novel, set in Nebraska during the first World War, was. It made it so easy to sink in and understand what “normal” people in the Midwest experienced during WWI. Through a German American farming family and a doctor facing a cu
Julie Rowse
Dec 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016-reads
One of the most beautiful books I've ever read. I took my time with it for the first 100 pages, mostly because Shoemaker's language is so gorgeous and dense that each chapter felt like a feast; I needed time to digest before moving on.

This was also a timely read--I put Nov. 4 as my start date, but I think I started reading it at the end of October. The anti-German, hyper-patriotic, xenophobic sentiment of 1917-1918 reminded me much of the toxic election season that coincided with my reading of
Apr 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Captivating. If I had to describe Karen Gettert Shoemaker's "The Meaning of Names" in one word that one word would be captivating. Full of rich prose and descriptive images I was sucked in from the first sentence. The chapters switch between Gerda, a young German housewife who was disowned by her family for marrying for love, and Dr. Ed Gannoway. At first I was a little confused but eventually the characters stories begin to intertwine and the chapter set up is proven highly effective.

This book
Matt Suder
Feb 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club, 2017
Absolutely right book, right time, right place, etc.

Stunning finish is only slightly weighed down by slowish moments in the early stages of the novel.

The most moving dedication of any book I've read.

Essential reading for any Nebraskans on the fence about the times we live in. This takes on immigration, hate, women & society, religion, the limits of science, hope, fear, community, family....

I can't convey enough how much this book comes together in the end and gives a true, emotionally re
Jan 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a beautifully written book. I enjoyed it on so many levels. It is set in Nebraska in 1918. I am a direct descendant of German farmers in this area, so I was really able to connect emotionally to the characters. I finished this book a couple of days ago and I am still thinking about it. My only critique is that the plot of the book could have been developed a little more fully, but the beautiful writing and wonderful characters balance the slightly meandering plot. I definitely recommend ...more
Liz Kay
Aug 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
This is beautifully written. Shoemaker paints the physical and psychic landscapes so vividly. The characters are richly drawn and the novel is an important exploration of fear, prejudice, and misguided patriotism.
Karen Atwood
Feb 03, 2018 rated it liked it
I was determine to go back and finish a book I started for book Club in late 2015. It certainly highlights the struggles the families faced in middle America during the First World War. Very tragic. I don’t see a strong connection to the title “The Meaning of Names”.
Sep 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
A very well written and enjoyable book. The authors use of language and the beauty of her prose gave the imagery and emotion in the book great depth. Being from Nebraska, the strength, determination and grit of her characters, along with the stories, resonated with me, bringing to mind my own family and my family stories. The description of the sandhills and Eastern Nebraska landscapes were vivid and spoke home to me. If you have never experienced the beauty of the sandhills and the great plains ...more
about as exciting as you would expect a novel of german farmers in nebraska in 1918 ever could be, but that said, it is thoroughly absorbing and interesting. flu, war, bugs, racism, dirt, lug-headedness, middle of nowhere. dirt too. lots of dirt.
Paul Baker
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Meaning of Names by Karen Gettert Shoemaker is a modern classic, quite a feat for a book set in 1917-18, but since it was written by a contemporary, I have to put it in that category. As far as it being a classic, I would put it alongside most of D. H. Lawrence's novels for pure quality of story, characterization, place, and time.

The book tells its story from several points of view, switching back and forth as the story dictates. Following the entry of the United States into World War I, lif
Ellen Dreyer
May 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This novel had me from the first:

"When Gerda was five, her older sister came home to die. No, not to die, to give birth, but dying is what she did."

Set at the start of WWI, the story focuses on Gerda Vogel, a German immigrant in Nebraska at the start of World War I, her husband Fritz, and their family as they eke a living out of the land, grapple with anti-German sentiment stirred up by the war, and fight to survive the influenza pandemic. The details of daily life come to life and feel as real
Aug 23, 2015 rated it liked it
Originally, I was drawn to this book because of parallels with my own family history. My grandfather, the grandson of German immigrants, was born in Iowa in 1914, and also spent part of his childhood in Nebraska.
The book is written almost like two separate stories, with chapters alternating between getting to know Gerda and Dr. Gannoway. In getting to know Gerda and reading about her life as a midwest farm wife at the turn of the century, I felt like I could have been standing in my great-grand
Jul 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Historic fiction, WW I, American German, 1918 Flu Pandemic. The book was set in Nebraska. I liked the book and would recommend it to others.
Marcia Forecki
May 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The Meaning of Names is the story of Gerda Drueke Vogel, a Nebraska Sandhills daughter, sister, wife and mother. To each of her family roles, Gerda gives her strength, determination and love. The world around Gerda is in deep chaos. The year 1918 finds her community in conflict with itself as war rages in Europe and the prospect of conscription to service abroad hangs over the head of her husband. Into this storm marches the great influenza pandemic. The story carries Gerda through a year of ex ...more
Chris  - Quarter Press Editor
Mar 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful book, plain and simple. And, to me, it doesn't get much better than that.

Like so many of my favorite books, Shoemaker takes a story that could be so full of an often-trod history and gives it a unique voice, quieter, and a genuinely heartfelt tale. The story of the Vogels is genuinely touching and provides a wonderful illustration of how our worlds--no matter how private--are affected by the goings on in the world and the general mindset of others.

Even more, buried within the
Sep 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was an enjoyable book. Much of the writing was beautiful with many poetic passages. It was a great book for book club discussion. Themes/subject matter included WWI, the Spanish flu epidemic, anti-immigrant sentiment, propaganda, and family relationships.

It was also fun to read a book set in rural Nebraska and be reminded about how hard early settlers and farmers worked. It had 2 main storylines: that of Gerda, a German-American farm wife, and that of Dr Gannoway, a rural doctor. I enjoyed
Feb 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015-books-read
Nebraska author. A solid B+ book. Some pieces were excellent and a few lines were profound, but overall her character development wasn't great-I didn't care about any of them and a lot of the time I had to force myself to read it since it was a book club book. Learned about the great influenza plague of 1918 and about the prejudice against Germans in Nebraska during WWI years. That was beneficial to learn about.
Carolyn Hanson
May 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Many moments of reflection are provided in this 1918 slice of life....about family loyalties & expectations, marriage, farm life, far-reaching effects of war, the flu pandemic, death, grief, beliefs. Would be a great book club pick. Found the ending to be an effective launch into new contemplations...
Aug 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book has a lot going for it. The good points - it has some really wonderful layered characters, I especially liked and related to the wife and mother Gerda. The setting in Nebraska during World War I is beautifully done. I love it when a setting and a time period help me understand what it was like at that time and place.
Jane Healy
Apr 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
I got this from the library at the recommendation of someone on a FB list. I was interested because it is set in nearby Nebraska during the WWI era. I knew that it was about the hatred for German-Americans at that time, but I was not prepared for the whole of the story! Told from the pov of a German-American wife & mother, Gerda Vogel, we see life as it was at that time and see some of our current events repeating the same mistakes. Shoemaker keeps the tension strong by alternating chapters ...more
Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it











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The Meaning of Names

by Karen Gettert Shoemaker

3.94 · Rating details · 486 Ratings · 109 Reviews

Stuart, Nebraska is a long way from the battlefields of Western Europe, but it is not immune to the horrors of the first Great War for Peace. Like all communities, it has lost sons and daughters to the fighting, with many more gi
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