In The Cowkeeper’s Wish, Kristen den Hartog and Tracy Kasaboski trace their ancestors’ path to Canada, using a single family’s saga to give meaningful context to a fascinating period in history—Victorian and then Edwardian England, the First World War and the Depression. Beginning with little more than enthusiasm, a collection of yellowed photographs and a family tree, the sisters scoured archives and old newspapers, tracked down streets, pubs and factories that no longer exist, and searched out secrets buried in crumbling ledgers, building on the fragments that remained of family tales.
While this family story is distinct, it is also typical, and so all the more worth telling. As a working-class chronicle stitched into history, The Cowkeeper’s Wish offers a vibrant, absorbing look at the past that will captivate genealogy enthusiasts and readers of history alike.
Tracy Kasaboski and her sister, Kristen den Hartog, co-authored The Occupied Garden: A Family Memoir of War-Torn Holland (McClelland and Stewart, 2008), which was selected as one of The Globe and Mail’s best books of the year. She lives in Deep River, ON.
Kristen den Hartog is the author of several books including The Perpetual Ending (Knopf, 2003), as well as And Me Among Them (Freehand Books, 2011), which won the Alberta Book Publishing Award for Trade Fiction. She lives in Toronto.
This is very much a Canadian story. What begins as research, by the daughter he would never see, into the life of a Boer War veteran who died in World War I expands to touch on many significant personalities and events in our nation’s history. Though this is Charles McKenzie Marten’s story, he doesn’t make an appearance until three-quarters of the way through the book. Discovering his history was a long and interesting process with all the makings of a detective drama.
There are photos, letters, documents, maps, pages of reference and an index. As much detail as possible has been included in the charts and the text in order that readers who find a family name or a link with their own heritage can get in touch with the author to share information.
It wasn't until long after Gerrit and Cor's deaths that their granddaughters began to piece their story together; combing through Dutch archives, family lore, and a neighbor's wartime diary, den Hartog and Kasaboski have lovingly and seamlessly recreated their grandparents' wartime years. The result is an extraordinary tale of strife and hardship that contains moments of breathtaking courage -- a young mother's bicycle journey of two hundred miles to find food for her children, a brother and sister's desperate escape into unoccupied France, a pastor forced into hiding for encouraging acts of resistance -- with a cast of characters that includes the exiled Dutch royal family, Adolf Hitler, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill. But it is Gerrit and Cor who take center stage in what is ultimately a deeply moving love story of a man and woman who drew strength from each other throughout those difficult years.
Poignant and unforgettable, The Occupied Garden is a testament to the resiliency of ordinary people living in an extraordinary time, written by two sisters determined to keep their family history alive.