Unfortunate Words

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
316 Pages
Reviewed on 07/23/2017
Buy on Amazon

Author Biography

I grew up on a ranch in southern Idaho. Most of of my adult life I worked as a wildlife biologist and wildland firefighter. However, I've always had a passion to write and since my retirement three years ago I have devoted much of my time to that endeavor. UNFORTUNATE WORDS came about after I watched a PBS show about the Sedition Act that Montana passed in 1917. I was shocked to learn of the power it gave the governent to imprison people for the most innocent criticism of the government or war effort.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Raanan Geberer for Readers' Favorite

In the early days of World War I, Otto Lutz, owner of a small Montana ranch and the central figure of John Hansen’s Unfortunate Words, is not in good shape. He has so little money that he has to buy gas for his Model T Ford on credit. He’s German-American, and while this isn’t a problem yet, one of the local “patriots” keeps pressuring him to buy Liberty Bonds, which he doesn’t have the money to purchase. One of his sons has just been drafted into the Army, and he doesn’t know how he’ll be able to get all the chores around the ranch done without him. And to top it off, his brother, an active member of the radical left-wing Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) labor union, suddenly appears at the ranch—a fugitive from the law—with his new girlfriend, a former prostitute. Just when it appears that things can’t get any worse, they do!

John Hansen’s Unfortunate Words is extremely well-written and doesn’t have a lot of unnecessary descriptive phrases. Hansen himself is from Montana, and his knowledge of the area shows in every sentence of the book. The characters are well-drawn, and the book isn’t cluttered with a lot of minor characters. For me, a history buff, Unfortunate Words has a lot of valuable information. For example, I never knew that European immigrants and first-generation European-Americans made it into this remote part of the West, but apparently, they did. It’s also a nice touch that Hansen includes the IWW—people need to be reminded that, at one time, there was a type of American radicalism that was strong among Western and Midwestern farmers, miners and workers, not just the stereotyped “elites” on both coasts. All in all, Unfortunate Words is a great book.

Jane Finch

Unfortunate Words by John Hansen tells the story of a family struggling to survive in the wilds of Montana in the early 1900s. Otto and Marie, and their sons, Zeke and Adam, find their quiet existence blighted by the appearance of Otto’s wayward brother, Heinrich, and his questionable lady friend. Add to that the threat of a distant war and their world is turned upside down when their son, Zeke, is called up to join the fighting. How can they survive without Zeke, with two extra mouths to feed, and a stirring of hatred against anyone with German heritage in their small community. Life may never be the same again.

The author, John Hansen, has painted a very credible picture of life in Montana in the early 20th century. Not just the landscape and the hard living, but believable characters and a sound voice for the era. The reader is taken on a roller-coaster of emotions as the main protagonists, Otto and Marie, battle with the elements of a wild country, the emotions of their son leaving home to fight in a war a world away, a brother tearing at Otto’s innermost feelings of right and wrong, and those he had thought of as friends becoming a threat to their very existence. This is an enthralling read, well written and with a good pace. Written with descriptions that conjure up a tranquil yet harsh country, this is a story that will tug at the heartstrings. A believable plot and a stirring story.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford

Words can be dangerous. Spoken out loud in a confrontational environment, words can spark a depth of anger that knows no boundaries. There are unfortunate incidents throughout history, and even today, where words spoken or written have caused grief, discord, and even violence. In North America, during World War I, Germans were ostracized and often abused, beaten, and subjected to all kinds of unfair practices and humiliations. This is what happened to the Lutz family in a small farming community in Montana. A group of vigilantes, set to bully away anyone of German descent, even one whose son was fighting the Germans overseas, made life miserable, unbearable, and, eventually, totally unaffordable, until Oscar, the father, was imprisoned for words he spoke and his family lost their ranch, their source of livelihood. All while Zeke, the eldest, was fighting the Germans in Europe. It all started, not just with words, but when Oscar refused to buy War Bonds. Why? Not because he was German. But because he just didn’t have the money.

It’s a sad day when people are judged by their ancestry instead of what they have done and continued to do in the community. John Hansen’s historical novel, Unfortunate Words, is a compelling story that relates unfortunate events which happened all across the country during the First World War. The story, though historical in nature, is a lesson from which we can all learn; to accept each other for what we have to offer our communities, not for what our ancestors might dictate. The author has a powerful ability to set the scene with descriptive narrative that places the reader right into the setting. The characters are realistic and well developed, to the point that the reader will instantly choose sides in a war on the home front that should never have required a fight. The plot is well developed with a satisfactory resolution and conclusion, pointing out that there are some good people in the world after all. A powerful story full of pain, suffering and retribution. Well done!