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.