This was a fascinating memoir, written by one of the best writers of her era ABOUT her era, Mari Sandoz! (She is the author of such books as Cheyenne Autumn, These Were the Sioux, and Crazy Horse: Strange Man of the Oglalas.) What made this book so interesting was the fact that it was about her father, a man who was complex and many-faceted. You don't like many things about this man as you read his story, but other things you find commendable and even prophetic. You wonder how Mari Sandoz could look beyond his faults and the way he made his family suffer, and write something that reports the bad but celebrates the good. It is an honest look at one man at the end of the Old West, fighting for the settler and his rights to own land against the ranchers, wanting no monetary gain for his hard work as a "locator" for many people, a lay Dr., a budding naturalist and postmaster. Yet, for all he did for Nebraska in his time, he was a "lazy" husband and father who preferred to go hunting than to do any work around his farm. He had a quick-flash temper against those who crossed him, but could be tender in rare moments. He needed a wife so work could be done around his place, so ended up marrying four times and no woman except the last, Mary, could bear to live with him. And through it all he held his love for a woman back in the old country as the shining ideal of his heart, not caring that he hurt Mary or his children with this misplaced devotion. If you described Jules Sandoz in today's vernacular, you might say he was "a piece of work."
I loved the book, though I was eternally annoyed with Jules, himself, because it was such an honest look as some of the lives of the settlers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and all that they had to face in that difficult time. It is wonderfully written and very interesting reading, although it did have a somewhat slow start. I definitely recommend Old Jules.