“With a novelist’s fine gifts for character and scene, a historian’s depth of perspective, and a local’s intimate knowledge and love, Frank Bergon leads us through California’s Big Valley, where the past lies entwined with the present and every critical tension in modern America plays out in its most distilled form.”
—Miriam Horn, author of Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland
“Novelist and critic Frank Bergon paints a remarkable portrait of life in California’s Great Central Valley through his loving sketches of rural and small-town Westerners. Biographies from this racially and ethnically diverse agricultural community reveal what it means to be part of the contemporary American West, where the mythic Old West meet twenty-first-century realities.”
—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University, author of Colored People: A Memoir
Frank Bergon’s astonishing personal portrayals of people in California’s San Joaquin Valley reveal a country where the culture of a vanishing West lives on in many twenty-first century Westerners, despite the radical technological transformations around them. All are immigrants, migrants, their children, or grandchildren whose lives intertwine with the author’s, including several races and ethnicities: Chicanos, Mexicans, African Americans, Italians, Asians, Native Americans, Scots-Irish descendants of Steinbeck’s Okies, and Basques of the author’s own heritage.
Bergon creates a powerful portrayal of rural and small-town Westerners who often see themselves as part of a region and a way of life most Americans aren’t aware of or don’t understand, their voices unheard, their stories untold. In these essays, myriad voices from the diverse heritage of the San Joaquin Valley help us understand the complexities of today’s rural West, where Old West values intersect with New West realities. This is the West (and America today)—a region in conflict with itself.
“With the perspective and compassion of a long-gone native son, Frank Bergon returns to his boyhood home in California’s San Joaquin Valley to understand the contemporary West. He introduces us to anti-government ranchers, disappointed writers, successful physicians, and enterprising farmers. We meet his high school buddy Fred Franzia, who went on to create the best-selling wine of all time, and an old friend Darrell Winfield, who became the iconic Marlboro man. Bergon’s beautifully drawn portraits capture a slice of the twenty-first-century West where old values are tightly held, idiosyncrasies are gently endured, and change is acknowledged, if not always embraced.”
—Martha A. Sandweiss, Professor of History, Princeton University, author of Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line
“No one grasps the astonishing diversity of the American West better than Frank Bergon. Partly it’s a matter of simple luck, growing up in California’s San Joaquin valley. But more important is his deft ability to navigate the blistering tensions of Old West and New, with stalwart individualism pitched against government regulations that encroach ever more insistently. In a series of stunning portraits of friends caught up in that tension—male and female, African- and Korean-American, Arapaho and Chukchansi, Basque and Anglo ranchers—Bergon weaves a Brueghel-like tapestry of today’s rural West. And he does so in prose insightful, judicious, even amusing—as crisply restrained and wryly revealing as the figures it describes. Once started, I dare you (Western style) to try to put this book down!”
—Lee Clark Mitchell, author of Late Westerns: The Persistence of a Genre