Review by KATHLEEN MULROY
East of the East Side, by Christy Leskovar (Sweetgrass Books, 2021), is the true story of her Slovenian ancestors’ search for a better life; a journey that took them from the rural areas of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the “Wild West” towns of early Montana.
Leskovar’s great-grandmother, Karolina Stangel, was born in 1869 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Karolina, who must have possessed both courage and a strong sense of independence, immigrated by herself to Calumet, Mich., around 1892 and worked as a maid.
It was in Calumet that Karolina met the man who would later become her husband (and Christy’s great-grandfather), Josef (Joe) Lozar. (Coincidentally, Joe had been born not far from Karolina’s birthplace.) When Karolina left Calumet for a better job opportunity—cooking for men who worked at a smelter in a new Montana town called East Helena—Joe followed her.
In the late 1800s, Montana’s growing mining industry was a draw for people from all over the United States and other countries. Rough and ready communities sprang up around areas with deposits of iron ore, copper, silver, or gold. Men came to stake their mine claims, hoping to strike it rich, but the industry also attracted men and women who hoped to enrich themselves by “mining the miners”—providing goods and services that miners needed.
After Joe Lozar followed Karolina to East Helena, he leased, and later bought, a saloon. Soon he and Karolina were married and started a family, which came to include Annie (Christy’s grandmother) and five other children.
In their late teens, Annie and one of her sisters attended Montana Wesleyan University in Helena. Young women who boarded at the university were “advised to bring their own bedding, towels, napkins, napkin rings, and lace curtains.” Those were different times, indeed!
Christy Leskovar’s grandfather Anton (Tony) Leskovar was born in 1887, in what is now Austria. He left the family farm to become a musician, and by 1914, Tony was playing the bassoon with the Paris Opera. Then came the horrors of World War I.
Tony—who was considered an enemy because he could speak German—fled to America and eventually made his way to Butte, Mont., where he played the bassoon in a popular band.
At some point, Tony and Annie Lozar met, and the family legend says she “immediately set her cap for him.” They were married in 1916.
From the farmlands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to the Paris opera house, to life in Montana frontier towns, Christy Lesovars’ ancestors had, as she writes, “A wild ride indeed.”
East of the East Side is available in print, e-book, and digital audiobook. MSN