SUMMIT AVENUE by Mary Sharratt

Black Forest Travel Poster from the 1930s

Like so many immigrants, 16-year-old Kathrin Albrecht believes that by coming to America she will escape a narrow, confining future in the Old Country (in this case, the Black Forest Germany), that of being married off to whoever will take her, a life of babies and drudgery. Instead, her uncle hopes she will go to college and acquire an education.

Pillsbury Flour Mills, St. Paul Minnesota circa 1900

But, on arrival in St Paul Minnesota, Kathrin’s cousin Lotte immediately marches her off to the Pillsbury flour mills, where she spends the next two years in a soul-destroying mindless treadmill of grinding flour.

Kathrin loves books and her love of reading draws her to a small bookstore, where the Jeliniks (uncle and nephew who are Czech emigrés) live and work. The uncle, Jan Jelinik befriends Kathrin, allowing her to linger over his books, even though she can’t afford to buy any.

Summit Avenue, Home of Prosperity, St. Paul Minnesota circa 1900

The nephew John Jelinik, a thoroughly Americanized second-generation fellow, helps her to find employment with enigmatic professor’s widow Violet Waverly, who needs someone to translate her husband’s texts. The perks of Kathrin’s new position include new clothes and a room in Mrs. Waverly’s home on Summit Avenue, where all the posh people live in St Paul. It is like walking into a fairy tale…

SUMMIT AVENUE, Mary Sharratt’s debut novel

Mary Sharratt is such a talented writer that this quiet story of a young girl trying to find her way in an alien environment draws you in without any obvious hook. Not only does Ms. Sharratt deploy metaphor, simile and imagery to convey the atmosphere of life in St Paul Minnesota just before World War One, but her pacing is beautiful, allowing the emotions of the various characters to unspool on the page. It is the combination of luscious prose, deft imagery and well-modulated pacing that draws the reader in.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Categories: Books