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Telling the Stories of Emigrants
November 30, 2005

A new book from Calvin professor of English emeritus Henry Baron tells stories from the past, stories that Baron says still carry important weight today.

Cruel Paradise is subtitled "life stories of Dutch emigrants."

The book, published by Eerdmans, was translated by Baron from the original stories written in Dutch and Frisian by Hylke Speerstra.

Listen to Henry Baron read from Cruel Paradise in a segment from a Calvin Halftime Jam (3.86Mb, mp3)

Contained in the book's 224 pages are a variety of stories, full of passion and pathos. Some are inspiring; some are heart-breaking. The tales take place in a variety of settings - Grand Rapids, Michigan; Oakdale, California; Tampa, Florida; Jerome, Idaho; Brampton and Waterloo in Ontario, Canada; and even South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

Some tell the tale of those who came to North America, did well for themselves and are living the immigrant dream. Others tell of struggle and homesickness that never went away.

But in those extremes, and in all the territory in between says Baron, are lessons to be learned.

"Immigration stories are universal," he says. "There is a great deal that all immigrants have in common whether that's Europe, Asia or South America."

Baron says Cruel Paradise can help those who are descended from the waves of Dutch immigrants better understand and embrace their own story.

But, he says, anyone who is the descendant of immigrants can learn about others as well through the stories in Cruel Paradise. And, he adds, in this day and age of discussions about closing borders and shutting down immigration ,it can sometime be illuminating to read about what a generation of immigrants went through a half century ago.

"This was more than just a translation project for me," he says. "I was an immigrant child myself. Immigrant experiences must not be forgotten; rendering them into a world language was a source of genuine satisfaction and has drawn me closer to my roots. For that I will always be grateful."

The book is available at the Calvin College Campus Store. Email campus-store@calvin.edu or call 1-800-748-0122 (toll free in North America).