Last Hundred Years: A Family Saga #1

By: Jane Smiley

Published: October 7, 2014

Publisher: Knopf

Fiction/Historical Fiction

When I heard Jane Smiley had written a new book about an Iowa family covering several generations, I was anxious to read it.  I had read her book A THOUSAND ACRES years ago and remember really loving it.

Rosanna and Walter Langdon live in the small farming community of Denby, Iowa. They love the land and survive by using, eating, and selling what they produce. In 1920, Walter is just 25 and Rosanna is just 20. They are starting out on their own farm with their families close by offering advice and helping on the farm. As they are soon blessed with children, Rosanna and Walter find that each of their children has unique personalities but as they grow into adults, the values and traditions instilled in them by their parents will stay with them no matter where they go.

What I most enjoyed about this novel was the stories of life on the farm. Growing up on an Iowa farm myself, I could relate, even though it was in the 1970’s rather than the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. These are the years my parents grew up and the Langdon’s farm and family reminded me of how I expect my dad’s life was like growing up. Walter and Rosanna had six children and instilled values of hard work, with even their children as young as five expected to help out on the farm. The stories of cutting the tales off of new lambs, shearing the sheep, and collecting eggs immediately transported me back to my own childhood.

Each chapter is a year in the Langdon’s life, jumping from one story to the next oftentimes skipping months in between.  If you are looking for a book with a major plot and climax, this is not the book for you. Rather this is a diary of a family over 33 years. The Langdon’s are like most other families in small town Iowa during this time. They suffer loss, they celebrate births, and they find themselves surviving droughts and depression. They find a way to survive, to love each other, and move into the next chapter of their lives.

I wish their had been more depth to the stories, but I found I cared about the characters and the lives they were creating. I didn’t love SOME LUCK, but I did appreciate the story Smiley is telling.

SOME LUCK is the first in a trilogy.  EARLY WARNING, the second in the series, became available yesterday. I plan to give it a slot in my to-read list.

Jane Smiley – source

Jane Smiley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist. Born in Los Angeles, California, Smiley grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, and graduated from John Burroughs School. She obtained a A.B. at Vassar College, then earned a M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. While working towards her doctorate, she also spent a year studying in Iceland as a Fulbright Scholar. From 1981 to 1996, she taught at Iowa State University.  Her best-selling A Thousand Acres, a story based on William Shakespeare’s King Lear, received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1992. It was adapted into a film of the same title in 1997. In 1995 she wrote her sole television script produced, for an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street. Her novella The Age of Grief was made into the 2002 film The Secret Lives of Dentists.

In 2001, Smiley was elected a member of The American Academy of Arts and Letters. For more on Jane Smiley, check out her website,

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