Author: Laurice Hartman LaZebnik
Author: Laurice Hartman LaZebnik
Laurice Hartman LaZebnik's Minnie's Potatoes draws on her extensive research concerning her own ancestors and whose DNA she carries in her cells.
The saga is a compelling portrait of a specific time and place in its depiction of pioneer life and lumbering history at its worst and best in Arenac County Michigan. It is crafted around the life of the author's great-grandmother, Wilhelmina (Minnie) Bublitz Hartman who was born in the Polish Province of Poznan in the Duchy of Warsaw in 1855.
As the story unfolds, we learn about Minnie, a most beautiful sought- after woman in Poznan who at sixteen was to marry Karl Hartman who stole her from his brother Fred who initially was courting her.
As Karl was an officer in the German military, he and Minnie decide to marry at the train station before his departure for the Russian front. Her parents, mindful of Karl's potential for stirring trouble, were not in favor of the marriage, however, as Minnie was smitten, they gave into their daughter's wishes.
On the day of their marriage Karl doesn't show up at the appointed time and Minnie was convinced he was jilting her bringing disgrace to her family. Fred steps in and proposes to Minnie and the couple are married. An hour later Karl arrives and is quite distraught in learning what happened but could do nothing about it.
For the next few years Minnie's life with Fred was worry free and she felt it had changed for the better marrying Fred and bearing three children with him. Matters however were about to take a dramatic different direction when one night Fred arrives home and announces that they were moving to America. He promises Minnie they would have a new cottage near a beautiful forest surrounded by pristine lakes in Michigan.
Fred receives a one-way ticket to America from the Michigan lumber company, however, Minnie is quite adamant that she has no intention of leaving Poznan and following him to America. Fred tells her that he was leaving with or without her and he assures her that he would send for her and the children when he was able to save enough money.
And here is where the story really gets interesting. While Fred is away in American working off his butt to save enough money to fetch for his family, Karl shows up and has an illicit affair with Minnie and impregnates her.
When Minnie finally arrives in America, she shocks Fred with her newborn daughter and Fred tells her that she is putting him in his grave while he was still in his prime. The better life that Minnie was promised turns out to be quite a disaster consuming all of her waking hours and causing her “to melt into the Michigan landscape and slip away, piece by piece....used by her husband for sex and pulled apart by her children for the every-growing needs.” Nonetheless, she survives all kinds of hardships and disasters including loss of children, fires that destroy her homes, abuse, and the untimely accidental death of Fred, which ironically leaves her free from his stifling shackles.
With her ten children including one from her illicit relationship with Karl, Minnie is determined to survive. And with her knowledge of making alcohol from potatoes which she acquired while living in Poznan, she and her family set up a bootlegging business that proves to be quite profitable, particularly during time of prohibition.
Milking every drop of drama from her narrative, LaZebnik loads it with vivid descriptions, thoughtful observations, and suspense. Where the novel particularly stands out is that the author has a gift for evoking the luminous joys and dark pains that color every family as well as their way of life in a bygone era, making them seem as vivid and immediate as something that transpired only yesterday. And not only is the narrative an empathetic and searing family saga but it is also an intimate portrait of lives that never seem less than real involving the author's great- grandparents as they absorbed the odd customs of America. Not to leave out it is an attestation to her great-grandfather's astute foresight in purchasing and clearing lands in various areas of Michigan and giving them to his sons as well as to three generations that still bear the Hartman name.