Please welcome Sydney Avey to the blog this week. She shares the unique story behind her very unique story. Here’s a little bit about the book, The Sheep Walker’s Daughter.
In 1953, a war widow’s difficult mother dies before revealing the identity of her daughter’s father and his cultural heritage. As Dee sorts through what little her mother left, she unearths puzzling clues that raise more questions: Why did Leora send money every month to the Basque Relief Agency? Why is her own daughter so secretive about her soon-to-be published book? And what does an Anglican priest know that he isn’t telling?
All of this head-spinning mystery breaks a long, dry period in Dee’s life and leads her to embark on an odyssey. She might just as well lose her job and see where the counsel of her new spiritual advisor and the attentions of an enigmatic ex-coworker lead her.
The Sheep Walker’s Daughter pairs a colorful Basque immigrant history of loss, survival, and tough choices with one woman’s search for identity and fulfillment. Dee’s journey will take her through the Northern and Central California valleys of the 1950s and reach across the world to the Basque Country.
Along the way, she will discover who she is and why family history matters.
Sounds fascinating. What inspired you to write the book?
The Sheep Walker’s Daughter explores the issue of why parents might hide their ethnic and cultural history from their children. When people grow up unaware of the traditions that sustained their ancestors, what do they lose? I chose Los Altos, California in the Fifties as the setting because it was a time of recovery from WWII. The future promised prosperity; new industries would transform the Valley of the Heart’s Delight into Silicon Valley.
At that time, immigrants flooded the valley. Many shed “the old ways” to pursue the American Dream. Some went so far as to cut ties with extended family. The seeds of isolation that people experience today in Silicon Valley, where I grew up, were probably sown then.
I chose the Basques as my main character’s unknown heritage. I wanted a culture that few people had associations with so readers could make discoveries alongside Dee. My research showed that communities of Basques are scattered all over the world, including a large Basque population in Bakersfield, a four-hour drive from Los Altos. That meant I could do original research!
Crossing the railroad tracks Alonso and Iban would have crossed to reach the boarding house that would shelter them helped me connect with the mixed feelings they must have had. I ate family style in the dining hall where they would have eaten and talked with old sheepherders who told stories about the hardscrabble life–the sacrifices and the rewards. That experience left me with an understanding and appreciation for the way the Central Valley and the Basque people enriched each other.
In the fictional account, Dee’s daughter Valerie travels to the Basque land. I have not yet had that opportunity, but I hope to one day. A bit of serendipity–when I needed a new publisher for The Sheep Walker’s Daughter, The Center for Basque Studies, University of Nevada, Reno stepped up.
Thanks for joining us, Sydney!