My American Century by Studs Terkel
My American Century is an amazing book that tells real stories of common people who live in Chicago and try to survive in the harsh environment. They tell about memories of their childhood, about their parents, about their dreams, hopes, impressions and experience. All of these people are of different nationalities, religions, and professions. These stories are very frank, penetrating and sincere. They tell very plainly about the reasons of their actions. Perhaps, Mr. Terkel is a very good psychologist, because he tries to look deep into the souls of these people who are talking to him. These stories are not exactly interviews. There are whole their lives in these stories – with their fears, hopes, interests, motivations and the ways they perceive the reality.
About the Author
Louis Terkel was born in 1912 in Chicago. He was a radio journalist; so, his stories were oral and they were full of idioms and phrases that characterized the people, their surrounding and approach to living. Mr. Terkel was a descendant of Jewish family who came to Chicago in 1920. His father was a craftsman and his mother was a circus performer, but she managed a hotel in Chicago. After the graduation, Louis Terkel worked in radio and wrote more than 16 books that became very popular and won the love of readers. He collected typical biographies of the people, which represented the real history of Chicago and the United States more truthfully than official sources usually described. His stories were true and sincere and this is why they were highly appreciated. In 1985 he had got a Pulitzer Prize for his book “The Good War”. He had got a nickname “Studs” after the hero of the popular book of James Farrell, because he had not got a driving license. Mr. Terkel was a good listener and he managed to break down all barriers in communications with different people so that they revealed themselves in full.
The People and the Characters
This book is not imaginative. It is rather a journalistic investigation. The author does not evaluate the thoughts or actions of these people. He just reflects their reality as it is – with all negative and positive traits, social life and the principal events of their life – as they are, without embellishments or analyzing the reasons and the consequences of the reality. Talking about their memories, these people describe the whole 20th century as it was – with all worries, problems, fears, poverty, hunger and disorders. Coming from different families, these people have their difficult relations with wider public, authorities and just with their neighbors. They fight for survival and earn their lives. Here are some examples.
Vine Deloria was a middle-aged Indian who had to move too often to realize what happened and to enjoy new places and situations. He spent his childhood in a reservation and told to the author and the readers about his attitude to white people that were childish, frightened and could not co-exist with other tribes and animals.
Andy Johnson was a Finn who came to America in the very beginning of the 20th century. He told about his parents, about his vivid recollection of childhood and about their hard way from Finland to America. He worked in the mining company and he thought that it was not possible to have his own opinion there.
sWallace Rasmussen was born in Nebraska and he was a farmer. He told about the difficult times during the Great Depression. This man considered that people wouldn’t help you, so you had to survive and to succeed by yourself. He became a chief executive officer and his company was quite wealthy.
Studs Terkel portrays also other people, a columnist Vernon Jarrett, C.P Ellis, who manages one of the departments of the Ku Klux Klan organization, Leonel Castillo who is at the head of the immigration service and many other people. These characters are vivid, interesting and natural. They all tell about their dreams and the ways of their realization.