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American nightmare

Books | By Emily Bearn | January 2018

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder By Caroline Fraser

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House novels about her childhood on the American prairies sold more than sixty million copies and became her country’s most abiding story of pioneering life and family indomitability. For anyone who read the books and collected the Ma and Pa peg dolls, this biography will come as a shock. ‘Swamped in pious sentimentality, dimmed and blurred by the marketing of the myth, Wilder has become a caricature, a brand, a commodity,’ Caroline Fraser writes. What follows is an extremely readable, 515-page family sitcom that sits painfully at odds with the myth we have so guiltily enjoyed. We already know from a memoir published long after Wilder’s death that her children’s books gave a selective version of events. Among the stories she omitted was an incident in the town of Burr Oak, when the young Laura saw a man so drunk that his cigar ignited the whisky...

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