The question of whether you can “go home again” takes on special meaning in the book “Sweet Promised Land”, especially for all first-generation immigrants who leave their homeland to come to America. It is one man’s experience presented as a memoir, rather than as a fictional story, more the norm for mid twentieth century writers.
Dominique left his Basque home as a very young man. It was 47 years before his return in the 1950’s. Many will recognize that time and it will be a contrast they will feel and share. Others, who were not born until much later, will have less experience and will have to rely on the authors presentation of the contrasts. Either way it is a story of discovery.
Dominique, recalls the days of rich open ranges and dirt streets in the old country He then comes as a young sheepherder to America and the work is similar, but the land is less accommodating. America is the difference and it is indeed a land of opportunity that Dominique and his family benefit from.
Dominique’s wife was also a Basque who immigrated. They met in Reno. After they married she worked the sheep camps with him for a while and then she settled in Carson City running a small hotel where her focus was to get the children educated.
Late in his interesting life Dominique had a little stroke. He hadn’t been able to stop working before. When he tried, and then saw past friends who had quit working and not too soon later died, it upset him, so he went back to work in the mountains.
Dominique could now afford to quit. He could afford to go back to the old country and he wanted to. It took his family who loved him very much to convince him to go. The family probably didn’t realize that Dominique saw people at a much deeper level than they assumed. His youngest son was especially concerned that the trip be successful, and he went with him. They fly to New York City, Paris and then the Pyrenees where the homecoming is joyful.
A special time is spent with his sisters and extended family. He was a returning hero and the homecoming was an emotional time filled with great happiness. He did not know how he would feel when it was time to go, but he learned that it was no longer where he belonged. His son learned not just about the old country, but a lot about how his father’s wisdom.
The immigrant experiences provide a “source of ethnic pride”. The book is a classic celebration of Americana and something we all should read.
"Then I saw a cragged face that that land had filled with hope and torn with pain, had changed from young to old, and in the end had claimed. And then, I did know it.”
Author Robert Laxalt