Hylke Speerstra has never been shortlisted for the Nobel Prize or the Man Booker. He writes in a minority language understood by about half a million people and read by only a fraction of that small number. But that does not mean his books don’t deserve your interest or attention. Hylke Speerstra is ‘world famous’ in Friesland (a province of the Netherlands) after all. He writes with conviction and emotion about the proud people of that tiny patch of northwestern Europe where they speak their own beautifully expressive language and hang on to their historic traditions.
Like all marginalized rural regions of Europe, Friesland has seen its fair share of migrants leave in search of a better life elsewhere. In 2005 Speerstra’s collection of oral history emigrant memoirs was published in English translation as Cruel Paradise. Now, twelve years later, Mokeham Publishing is proud to announce the release of The Comfort Bird, Speerstra’s second book to be translated from Frisian into English – by Prof. Henry Baron of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The Comfort Bird follows the experiences of three generations of two families of farm laborers from a small town in Friesland. One family moves across the ocean and passes through Ellis Island in 1911 to seek their fortune on the American Prairies. Despite depression and dust bowl, with the perseverance typical of the migrant farmer they build a life for themselves in the USA. The way back to Europe for one of the family members goes through Utah Beach on D-Day as an enlisted soldier in the American Army.
The second family is too much rooted in the heavy soil of the old country to emigrate. They keep their head above water by performing seasonal work in Germany. Rebellious and always searching for social justice, they make decisions which will put them on the wrong side of history. In a strange twist of fate World War II brings the families together again, on opposing sides of the conflict.
The Comfort Bird is based in fact and Speerstra, who lists John Steinbeck and Truman Capote as great examples, traveled extensively in the USA, Germany and the Netherlands to research original sources and interview descendants.
Hylke Speerstra will be visiting southern Ontario in the last week of June for a lecture and book signing tour with events in Toronto, Brampton, Whitby, Oakville, Burlington, Grimsby, Woodstock, London and Chatham. After that he will fly to Edmonton for another series of engagements.
Mokeham Publishing is a Canadian boutique publishing house, with its roots in the Dutch-Canadian community. It publishes a Dutch language monthly newspaper (De Krant) and an English language bi-monthly magazine (DUTCH the magazine). It also publishes books with subject matter related to the Netherlands and the Dutch, with a special focus on the Dutch and their descendants in Canada and the USA.
The Comfort Bird by Hylke Speerstra
Translated by Prof. Henry Baron
Published by Mokeham Publishing Inc.
PO Box 35026, Oakville, ON L6L 0C8
905-465-0777 – email@example.com