Reviewer Conny Withay:Operating her own business in office management since 1991, Conny is an avid reader, volunteers reading the Bible to the elderly, and makes handmade jewelry. A cum laude graduate with a degree in art living in the Pacific Northwest, she is married with two sons, two daughter-in-laws, and one granddaughter.
Title: My Life in America ~ Before, During and After
the Civil War
Author: Louis Hensel
Translator: Sigrid Wilshinsky
Publisher: Jo-An Books
ISBN: 13 978-1-890719-13-5
“Well, when I want to do something I usually make it happen, if possible,” wrote German-born Louis Hensel in his translated memoir, My Life in America – Before, During and After the Civil War. In reading this adventurous man’s life story, he did indeed accomplish so much in his ninety-one years on this earth.
At three hundred and fifty pages, this paperback book has an old black and white photograph of a uniformed American soldier posing on a horse on the front cover. The back cover has a paragraph about Hensel and a note by translator Wilshinksy. There are a few family photographs included inside. The book is geared to anyone interested in reading about the people, land and culture in America from the mid-nineteenth century to the early nineteen hundreds.
Louis Hensel was an opportunistic, stubborn risk-taker and lover of art, music and nature who wrote letters during the last eleven years of his life of his worldly escapades to his long lost daughter that he had not seen since she was a baby and grand-daughter he never met. Although he was born in Germany and had a child there, he ended up in America with a wife and two children that apparently did not know of his past life. The letters detailed his varied vocations of sculpture/artist, musician/music teacher, horse trainer/instructor, farmer, and long-time opera set designer, choir singer and actor as he crisscrossed across the America’s northern and southern states several times.
With his love for the natural world, he wrote in depth stories of crossing the frozen Hudson River, riding the steamboat down the sandy Mississippi River, hunting the South’s swamplands filled with banana trees and deadly snakes, and tending the fields and farms of New York and Pennsylvania. When he visited Niagara Falls, he penned, “I was overcome by a wondrous feeling; it is hard to put into words – I saw women cry – not from pain or fear – No! – But from an overpowering feeling of response to seeing wonders of God and nature.”
In addition to recanting by name his beloved horses, dogs, cows and pets, telling purchases, nuances and outcomes of each, he stated his opinions not only of the Civil War where he was a riding instructor but also on other countries’ conflicts during his lifetime. He explained his accidental visit to the White House where he met President Lincoln and was misconstrued as a translator, his peace pipe talk with an Indian chief and every one of the operas he performed and helped produced at each city played.
His unusual brushes with death happened often; his easy-going gypsy lifestyle apart from his family were adventurous but lonely; and his acceptance toward the end of his life that he was old and ready to die showed his longing to be at peace with both man and God.
Although there is some repetition in the letters, this is a delightful read that anyone who is interested in America’s past can enjoy, told through the eyes of a dear, old but young at heart German man.