by Myra Hargrave McIlvain
Published 2013 by iUniverse LLC, Bloomington, Indiana
Reviewed by Laura D. Sanders
German immigrants influence on central Texas is palpable: witness Austin’s Scholz Biergarten, the town of New Braunfels, and the Wurstfest, not to mention the many German Lutheran churches in Texas.*
Author and Writers’ League of Texas member Myra McIlvain’s newest novel, Stein House, gives us an inside look at how and why some of those immigrants came to Texas. The story begins with the departure of a ship full of emigrants from Germany’s shore, and its later arrival at Indianola, a budding new town on the Texas Gulf coast, set to rival Galveston as a premier port in Texas.
The novel follows the story of one of the families, the Heinrichs. Talked into leaving their native land by circumstances and persuasive letters from a family member already in Texas, tragedy strikes as the boat pulls away from the dock in Germany – tragedy that affects not only their transit from Germany to Texas, but which has long-lasting effects on their lives in Texas across multiple generations.
Helga Heinrich begins her life in Texas managing Stein House, a boarding house owned by her brother-in-law, which plans to cater to the many immigrants and crews coming off the ships in Indianola’s harbor, as well as those hauling freight to and from Mexico and the interior of the state. Content to stay in Indianola despite it’s somewhat shocking roughness, Helga and her family exercise ingenuity and hard work in making a go where they’ve been planted.
Music, art, politics, war, and the weather all play a part in the plot line of Stein House. So too does Stein House itself, being the stage for not only the Heinrich family story, but for the stories of its boarders as well, with even an artist’s stenciling of its walls playing a somewhat significant role. Stein House is ultimately both the setting for the love affair of a lifetime and the tragedy that forces that love out of Indianola and farther into the interior of Texas.
Ms. McIlvain has crafted a well-written story, incorporating her deep knowledge of Texas history. The characters are well-drawn, and the author does a great job of showing both the qualities that establish the characters and the pressures and joys that either force or invite change. By the time I was half-way through the book I couldn’t put it down. When it comes to novels I usually keep only ones I’ll read more than once. Stein House has earned a place on the shelf.
Additional Resources on Germans in Texas
* The Scholz BierGarten began it’s existence over an old boarding house in what is now downtown Austin, and continues to be a favorite gathering place of public and politicians alike. http://www.scholzgarten.net/scholz_history_new-august.html
* For more information on German art and stenciling in Texas, see the KLRU documentary “The Painted Churches of Texas: Echoes of the Homeland” at http://www.klru.org/paintedchurches/documentary.html
Laura D. Sanders is an editor and writer who resides in Austin and has been a member of the Writers’ League of Texas for several years. She currently has two books in process: a memoir of her Acadian ancestors journey from Nova Scotia to New Orleans, and a Christian romance novel. She is a member of the Editorial Freelance Association and enjoys bringing out the best in others’ writing. Website: http://www.lauradsanders.com