by Tara Wilson
When the opportunity came up to review The Waters Run Deep by J. Wesley Gunther, I was not totally sure that I wanted to take it on. It was fairly long, and I generally prefer to read fiction. I knew it was about the heritage of a German Mennonite family that immigrated from Russia and Prussia looking for religious freedom, and eventually ended up settling in the Reedley area as farmers. My family on my father’s side did that very same thing, so I was intrigued. I decided to give the book a try.
What I did not expect was to be so thoroughly drawn in to the book from the very beginning. I had a bit of trouble keeping some of the people straight, after all with up to a dozen children per family, it started to be a lot of names to try to remember. I gave up on trying to keep a mental tally of everyone, and just read the story. Part one of the story laid the foundation of the ancestors of the Gunther family. It was fascinating to read about how the families made the journey from town to town and country to country looking for religious freedom and economic opportunity. The persecution they went through due to their Mennonite faith was awful. It truly made me appreciate the freedoms that we have today.
Eventually they set sail across the ocean for the United States. From there the family made its way across the country, settling in many small towns and farming. Hardships were not uncommon; death, disease, poverty, and persecution were never far away. The author drew extensively on old journals, public records, stories, and pictures to chronicle their difficult life.
Part two of the book tells the story of the author’s parents, John P. and Helena Johnson Gunther. It begins with how they met and married, and then continues on to all the trials, tribulations, and joys they faced raising a dozen children and trying to make ends meet during the Great Depression. I was enthralled with this section of the book because many of their experiences mirrored those of my own ancestors. They even lived in the same area that my grandfather grew up in: Corn, Oklahoma. The faith in God, determination, love, and dedication of this family is evident throughout.
Part three provides a snapshot of life on the farm for the author. As much as I enjoyed parts one and two, I would have to say that part three was my favorite. I absolutely loved reading the stories of picking grapes, milking cows, growing cotton, shopping in Fresno, heading to Dinuba to watch a matinee, spending all day every Sunday in church, and many others. Having grown up on a farm myself, I enjoyed reading about what had remained the same over time as well as the enormous changes that have taken place in farming. The stories are written in an entertaining and informative manner.
As you can probably tell from my review, I found this book to be exceptional. I highly recommend reading it. Whether you are interested in the history of the Mennonite faith, German immigrants, life in the Great Depression, farm life in the “old days” or, as the author puts it “a family story of triumph over adversity”, you will find something of interest here!