Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Appreciating William Kent Krueger’s latest bestseller, This Tender Land January 24, 2020

I’VE LONG BEEN A FAN of Minnesota writer William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor mystery series and stand-alone book, Ordinary Grace. But now I can add another title to that list. This Tender Land.

Ten days after I picked up the book from Buckham Memorial Library, where I’d been on a waiting list for months to get the 2019 release, I’d finished the novel. And I didn’t start reading it immediately as I had to first finish The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal.

In a nutshell, This Tender Land tells the story of orphaned brothers, Odie and Albert, who are sent to the Lincoln Indian Training School, although they are not Native Americans. Yes, such schools really existed long ago. The school is not so much a school as a prison with cruelty and abuse defining life there.

This fictional book, set primarily in southern Minnesota along the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, weaves actual history into the storyline. Much of that history focuses on the mistreatment of native peoples during and following the U.S.-Dakota Conflict of 1862 and how that carried through to subsequent generations. I’m familiar with that history having grown up in Redwood County, at the epicenter (along with Brown County) of that war. Krueger clearly did his research and then took that information and made it personal through characters, scenes and setting.

But this is much more than a historically-based book of fiction. This is a story about family and friends, about searching and discovery, about hope and despair, about love and loss, about cruelty and kindness, about redefining rich and poor, about anger and spirituality and forgiveness and finding one’s self. This book really makes you think as the story twists and turns and all those themes emerge.

At one point, after reading a line on page 288, I cried. When was the last time you cried while reading a book? I cried at 12-year-old Odie’s observation of women who’ve suffered and yet never given up hope, who’ve forgiven… It was a powerful sentence for me personally.

When a book can move me like that, I feel a deep respect for the author, for his talent, for his writing. There’s a reason William Kent Krueger’s books are bestsellers and in demand at libraries. He writes with depth and authenticity in ways that resonate.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “Appreciating William Kent Krueger’s latest bestseller, This Tender Land”

  1. valeriebollinger Says:

    I’ve been on the waiting list for this at our library. I look forward to reading it.

  2. Almost Iowa Says:

    Ordinary Grace is breathtakingly beautiful. I would imagine This Tender Land is too. I look forward to reading it.

  3. William Kent Krueger is an amazing storyteller and love the history he weaves in too 🙂 The one book that spoke to my whole being and had me in tears at points was The Shack by William P. Young. Happy Reading – Happy Weekend – Enjoy!


    Audrey, Enjoyed your comments on “This Tender Land” – I checked it out from my Knoxville, TN library & share your feelings; I also read “Ordinary Grace” & am now reading “Virgil Wander” by Leif Enger, another MN author originally from Osakis. Next I will look for his other 2 books, “Peace Like a River” & “So Brave, Young and Handsome.”

    • Welcome to the comments section all the way from Tennessee, Gary. I’m happy to have you here. Are you originally from Minnesota?

      I, too, love the writing of Leif Enger, especially Peace Like a River. Minnesota has produced many a gifted writer. Many of them write with an incredibly strong sense of place.

  5. Wow… sounds wonderful! Great review.

  6. Sheri Eichhorn Says:

    What an absolutely lovely book review! I will have to read this book now. I have long been a fan as well!

  7. Edward Brian Says:

    Growing up in a Dakota Sioux family on the Spirit Lake reservation gives me personal insight into the things that happened in the past. I choose to not allow the past to harden my heart. As such, I find it hard to read those books or watch movies concerning that subject. But I appreciate those that seek to shine a light on the subject.

  8. Sounds like a good one. Rick has read many of Krueger’s book. I’m sure this one will be in his future.

  9. Donna Lyon Says:

    I hope I can get this book from my local library, Krueger is a great author !

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