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John Michalik
Another Way Over
In 1910, Jan Brozek is a lone traveler, making his way across a Europe preparing for war, intent on immigrating to America to establish a new life for himself and his fiancée, Maria, who will follow once he has earned the money for her passage. Early in his travels he saves the life of Anna Ihnacak, the beautiful daughter of a Hungarian nobleman - their easy attraction creates emotions that, as he travels on, he has difficulty dealing with and understanding. Ready to sail across the Atlantic on the last, three-week leg of bis journey, he is stunned when his careful plans are derailed at the last minute and he must choose an alternate course, one that sets him on what would be a two-year odyssey covering three continents. In his travels, Jan moves in and out of the personal stories - involving murder and corruption, personal losses, natural disasters, and everyday situations - of those he meets along the way. And he is tempted by new opportunities that challenge his original goals. All the while he wrestles with his emotions concerning Maria and Anna; finally reaching a surprising resolution as his long journey takes yet another unexpected turn.
Inspired by his paternal grandfather's story of migration to the United States, Michalik's debut novel follows the not-so-smooth journey of a hopeful and determined young Slovak peasant, starting in 1910. Like countless others before and after, Jan Brozek dreams of securing a better life for himself, his fiancé Maria, and their future family. With hopes of emigrating to America, Jan carefully prepares for his daunting endeavor, which is complicated by the Habsburg empire’s refusal to let go of men who are fit for military service. But an eye inflammation and a chance encounter with the lovely daughter of a baron disrupt the pair's meticulous plans. Those unpredictable twists of fate force Jan to find a new path to the United States and question what his heart truly desires.

Readers fascinated by the day-to-day life of the past will be drawn in by the thoroughly detailed depiction of travel from Europe to the Americas–Michalik’s research reveals the logistics and practical considerations of every leg of the journey–as well as the larger historical aspects that Michalik includes, particularly the political and social aspects of daily life for rural Slovak villagers. The choice to emphasize historical detail, such as the lecture a character delivers about the holds and refrigeration of a cargo vessel, comes at the expense of narrative momentum, with Michalik’s love story lacking some intensity, and several promising plotlines fading into the background without making a larger impact.

Jan's travel, which is not instigated by tragic circumstances, naturally stirs a sense of adventure and optimism. But Michalik doesn't neglect to highlight the uncertainties and difficulties facing immigrants in that time period—including the hardship of leaving loved ones behind, knowing you may never meet again, with only slow and unreliable mail as a form of communication. This heartfelt story showcases the perseverance and steadfastness required when taking a leap of faith to start a new life.

Takeaway: This inspiring, detail-rich immigration story will speak to history lovers fascinated by the early 20th century American experience.

Great for fans of: Mary Antin's The Promised Land, Adriana Trigiani's The Shoemaker's Wife.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A