A Mennonite Classic’s Long Long Journey to Our Home

Today I’m going to write about a book I haven’t read. I know you’re probably not supposed to do that. (Or maybe that’s what everyone does. Ha.) Anyway, I’m not sure when Andrew and I first heard of Gordon Friesen’s Flamethrowers. I think maybe it was at the last Mennonite/s Writing conference. Whenever it was, it was a book that caught our attention for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s by a Friesen… from Oklahoma. Yep, there was a batch of Russian Mennonites who settled down there. Secondly, it’s considered one of the first works of fiction written by a Mennonite in English, and perhaps the first novel by a Mennonite that expresses any sort of criticism about Mennonites. The first rebel Menno novel you might say. The book was written in 1936, some 26 years before Rudy Wiebe stirred up controversy north of the border.

As far as I know, Gordon Friesen only wrote this one novel and later became a prominent member of the folk music revival in the 1960s, publishing the magazine Broadside and hobnobbing with Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and others. That’s quite the life for a Mennonite kid from Oklahoma.

So Flamethrowers is an important early work of Mennonite literature, but not easy to find, especially in Canada. It’s not in print anymore. Andrew found a copy online and ordered it from a used bookseller in Tulsa. This was back in February.

Well, Andrew ordered the book, but a few days later he realized he had not used that website in a while and had actually shipped the book to our old address. (We moved about a year ago.) We assumed the book was a goner. And a signed first edition of a fairly rare book is not cheap. Oba!

Then COVID hit and we thought for sure the book would never arrive. But, a few weeks ago the bookseller in Tulsa (Tulsa Books. Thanks!) emailed Andrew saying the book had been returned to them and they were willing to ship it out again.

And so just this week, after almost four months, and journeying from Oklahoma to Manitoba, back to Oklahoma and back to Manitoba again, we finally have this Mennonite classic in our home! I’m guessing it’s one of very few copies in Canada. It’s certainly the most well-travelled. Now to read it!

I would be very curious to know if any of you have read it or even heard of it!

Gordon Friesen’s Flamethrowers