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Tinsmith 1865

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When her tinsmith father and brothers head West, Polish immigrant Marie Kotlarczyk has no choice but to go along. Family, after all, is family. The Dakota Territories are anything but welcoming to the Kotlarczyks, and as the months trip by, Marie must pick up the hammers she’s secretly desired but also feared. When she faces the skeptical people of Flats Town, the demands of the local Army commander, and her public failures, her inner voice grows destructively, forcing Marie to decide exactly who she is and what it means to be a woman smith.

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  1. Promontory Press

    After her mother’s death, Marie Kotlarczyk’s father, a Polish immigrant, decides to uproot his remaining family in Chicago and head west by wagon train to Flats Town in the Dakota Territories. There he hopes to join Walter, a fellow craftsman from Poland, and start a tinsmith shop with his sons next to Walter’s blacksmith shop. However, his plans do not go smoothly. Marie’s older brother Tom, a former soldier who left a fiancé back in Chicago, resents his father’s decision to move the family, while her younger brother Al feels a need to prove himself. Worse, yet, Marie, irresistibly drawn to tinsmithing but with no hope of being taken seriously because of her gender, accidentally breaks a valuable piece of machinery her father has just spent some of their meager savings to buy. On arriving at their new home, the family is almost instantly deeply in debt due to circumstances beyond their control. All too soon, it seems to fall on young Mare to hold their fragile world together.

    This is a wonderful novel. Sara Dahmen clearly knows her subject matter. Dahmen, one of America’s few women coppersmiths, works with tools from the 1800s to make vintage cookware. This background, combined with careful research evidenced by the included bibliography, lends a real authenticity to her writing that gives the reader a genuine sense of life in a frontier town. More than just a history lesson, however, Dahmen’s plot is refreshingly unpredictable, making it difficult to put aside by the end. Most striking, however, is the complexity of her main character, Marie. This is a motherless teenage girl from an immigrant family who is attempting to navigate young womanhood in the foreign culture of a frontier without a role model. She is also a creative spirit who resists the predefined gender roles of her time. She is a person in whom very understandable self-doubts blanket the spark of an indomitable spirit. In other words, she is a complex, fully developed character, and it is a pleasure to watch her evolve throughout the novel. If this novel has a weakness, it is Dahmen’s choice to write in the present tense using the first-person point of view, which lends a sort of breathless immediacy to the writing that becomes a bit wearing after a while. Still, this can be overlooked because the story is so good.

    Currently in production to become a motion picture, Tinsmith 1865 is the first novel in the planned, six-volume Flats Junction series. On finishing this novel, readers will almost certainly be looking for the next in that series.

    – San Francisco Book Review

  2. Promontory Press

    Tinsmithing is no trade for young women; Marie Kotlarczyk knows this well. She watches her brothers and her father ply their trade, heating and shaping and soldering the bright tin into different shapes and items for the greater good of their customers and community and feels drawn to the work, but she is meant to marry, to mother, and not to smith. That is, until the ravages of war and the need for money turn the tide.

    Tinsmith, 1865, Sara Dahmen’s first book in the Flat’s Junction series, delivers Marie’s story with fire and precision. The world of the Dakota Territory is developed with clarity and attention, and the Polish families that inhabit it are colorful and sympathetic. When Marie’s family arrives under the direction of her father, Stanley, after the loss of her mother—the heart of the family—there is a fair amount of distress. How will the Kotlarczyks afford to set up their tinshop? To build a home? To live? The family friend that offered them land is in less than optimal financial straits himself, so the Kotlarczyks must seek loans that come with strings that affect Marie directly.

    The railroad threatens to split the property, the war takes the lives of too many young men, and Marie’s father suffers too much to be of use to her. As the book progresses, we see Marie become more and more independent and more and more of a smith, thanks to instruction from her older brother, and less and less a candidate for marriage and motherhood.

    Marie’s journey of self-discovery in a difficult time is engrossing and entertaining. Her feisty spirit and unwillingness to compromise what she loves and who she is drives Tinsmith, 1865 from the first page to the last.

    – Manhattan Book Review

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