Published in 1964
by Sierra Printing & Publishing Company
My first encounter with Edna Walker Chandler was through the pages of her Cowboy Sam series. As a child my mother would borrow the Cowboy Sam books from our local library to assist with my early reading, and later with my brother as he too learned to read.
Although the Cowboy Sam books are now out of print and thus extremely valuable to collectors, I still have fond memories of those books and hoped to one day own one or two of them, if I could ever find them for a reasonable price.
Unfortunately after a quick browse of the Internet I realized that unless the books are reprinted there's not chance that I will be adding them to my personal library any time soon. But it was during this search that I stumbled upon something I was not expecting -- Mrs. Chandler's only novel written for an adult audience, Chaff in the Wind. I was immediately intrigued. This forgotten novel is not nearly as valuable as Mrs. Chandler's children's books and I easily found affordable copies online (as low as a few dollars) as well as a free copy on Paperback Swap!
I picked up Chaff in the Wind in early June and started to read, only to discover what an engrossing read it was.
Chaff in the Wind is a saga of the land where the bread rises, told through the lives of some of the people who brought into being the great American Wheat Empire. Although the story actually begins in 1899, it covers the era from the early '80s to 1918. During that period occurred the greatest agricultural and industrial expansion the world has ever known. Its impact was felt by the wheat country as well as by the cities. In that time the wheat people lived, loved hated, dreamed, died of their dreams, and lived again, as grains of wheat in the chaff driven by the wind. The wheat people have their good, their bad, their middle-of-the-road groups, as do people in any other sector of life. But they held strongly to the basic values of home, church, and school, their conflicts being mainly those of Men against Nature, and Man against Self. (Summary courtesy of the publisher, back cover)
I was pleasantly surprised when I began reading Chaff in the Wind. I must admit, at first I wasn't sure if I would like the read or not. It isn't a well known novel and thus could very well be a dud, but within a few chapters I found myself hooked. Prior to reading this novel I really knew (and thought) very little of the "American Wheat Empire" and life in the mid-west during the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Now that I've finished the novel my interest has been wet and I am curious to learn more.
I found Mrs. Chandler's writing easy to follow and her characters and setting believable. My only complaint is with the pacing of the novel, particularly towards the end of the book. At the beginning (and within the first two chapters) the story speed is a little slow, but then as the setting and characters are established I found the story began to properly pick up speed and maintains a healthy pace for much of the book. It's only when I reached the last few chapters that I felt things got a little rushed -- as if Mrs. Chandler had planned to reach a certain point in time or a certain generation and suddenly realized she had only a handful of pages left to get there. In the end, while I enjoyed the read, I wish she had given herself a few more chapters to wrap up the story.
For those looking for a different type of historic novel I definitely recommend Edna Walker Chandler's Chaff in the Wind. It may not be great literature, but it was an entertaining read and one that has sparked in me a specific interest in learning more about wheat farmers at the turn of the last century.
As a side note, Chaff in the Wind reminded me of another settler-type novel I read in 2010, Gentlemen From England by Maud & Delos Lovelace, another read I highly recommend.