Award-winning authors Debra Marquart, from Napoleon, North Dakota, and Jill Kandel, from Valley City, North Dakota, have written new memoirs to whisk you away, beyond winter's chill.

January 18, 2023

North Dakota State University Press recommends the following two titles for your winter reading pleasure: “The Night We Landed on the Moon: Essays between Exile & Belonging” by Debra Marquart and “The Clean Daughter: A Cross-Continental Memoir” by Jill Kandel. Both memoirs explore the experience of living in North Dakota, with an emphasis on how growing up in this place impacts their world views.

Each of their memoirs takes us abroad and then back to the authors’ roots, a grounding in this place that is evident in their near and far encounters. As Marquart observes, “One begins to look back with fondness and nostalgia on the experiences and people who were so important in one’s life at certain points.” That fondness, as expressed by Debra and Jill, transforms into critical insight. Their explorations — literal and literary — transport the reader through dark thoughts and enlightened perspectives of what it means to be from North Dakota and how those experiences inform their world view.

Debra Marquart

Debra’s newest memoir, an assemblage of essays, explores the space between states of exile and belonging, the seemingly irresolvable dilemma of the restless homebody. Debra was born into a family of land-loving people — farmers known as the ethnic group Germans from Russia — who had emigrated from Russia to the United States between 1886 and 1911 and taken up land claims in Dakota Territory. Her grandparents tended their farms and fields, never dreaming of moving another inch away from the homes they had made. By contrast, Debra grew up a restless, imaginative child in that same agricultural place, yearning to strike out for places more interesting as soon as she was old enough to take flight.

As described by author K.L. Cook, Debra’s newest memoir is built upon “shapeshifting essays that travel from the blizzardy Midwest to sweltering Siberia, from a flooding Michigan basement to the panic-inducing Paris Catacombs, from her life as a rebellious farmer’s daughter to a hard rock musician to professor and poet laureate. Every page is full of story and insight, laced with wit, as Marquart meditates on the hungers of home and wanderlust, the way her Germans from Russia family is ‘preserved in their hyphenations,’ the poetic strangeness of basketball, the insidiousness of fracking boomtowns, and the ironies of a nostalgia called ‘heimat.’ The individual essays are astonishing, the collection as a whole profound.”

In “The Night We Landed on the Moon,” Debra works out the tensions between divergent impulses — the restlessness in the feet to always move forward into the world, mixed with the opposing desire to turn around, look back, and sometimes even settle in and claim to belong.

“The Night We Landed on the Moon” is the 2022 Silver Medal winner of the Independent Book Publishers Association award for memoir.

Any marriage is complicated, but one where two people grow up speaking different languages and abiding by different cultural codes presents unique challenges. Insert a demanding father-in-law — a healthy man who inexplicably ends his life by means of legalized euthanasia — and all the divergent customs, laws, and rules seem insurmountable.

When Jill married Johan, a man from the Netherlands (and an agronomist in NDSU’s plant sciences department), she never imagined the influence her father-in-law, Izaak, would hold over her life. Beneath his calm demeanor and clerical garb, Izaak carried the wounds of growing up in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. Childhood chaos led him to become a man who had all the answers — for everyone except himself.

Izaak ended his own life — while still a healthy man — using legalized euthanasia in the Netherlands. The long, tumultuous relationship between daughter-in-law and father-in-law was over. But Jill could not move on. Ten years later, still exhausted by thoughts of Izaak, she returned to the Netherlands to search for understanding. “The Clean Daughter” is a story about building family across cultural, linguistic, and geographical divides. The complicated ways families destroy and heal one another underpin Jill’s story of a family held together by tenacity, curiosity, and courage.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune calls “The Clean Daughter” “luminous” and “complicated.” Rain Taxi Review of Books cites Jill’s “intriguing spin on the memoir genre.” Columnist Jessie Voigts writes, “‘The Clean Daughter’ is hands down the best memoir and intercultural book I’ve ever read!”

Both titles are available from your favorite independent bookseller and at NDSU Press’s online store.

You can support the work of the NDSU Press by making a gift to its general fund.

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