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Her parents never really explained what a D.P. was. Years later Daiva Markelis learned that displaced person was the designation bestowed upon European refugees like her mom and dad who fled communist Lithuania after the war. Growing up in the Chicago suburb of Cicero, though, Markelis had only heard the name T.P., since her folks pronounced the D as a T: In first grade Her parents never really explained what a D.P. was. Years later Daiva Markelis learned that “displaced person” was the designation bestowed upon European refugees like her mom and dad who fled communist Lithuania after the war. Growing up in the Chicago suburb of Cicero, though, Markelis had only heard the name T.P., since her folks pronounced the D as a T: “In first grade we had learned about the Plains Indians, who had lived in tent-like dwellings made of wood and buffalo skin called teepees. In my childish confusion, I thought that perhaps my parents weren’t Lithuanian at all, but Cherokee. I went around telling people that I was the child of teepees.” So begins this touching and affectionate memoir about growing up as a daughter of Lithuanian immigrants.  Markelis was raised during the 1960s and 1970s in a household where Lithuanian was the first language. White Field, Black Sheep derives much of its charm from this collision of old world and new: a tough but cultured generation that can’t quite understand the ways of America and a younger one weaned on Barbie dolls and The Brady Bunch, Hostess cupcakes and comic books, The Monkees and Captain Kangaroo. Throughout, Markelis recalls the amusing contortions of language and identity that animated her childhood. She also humorously recollects the touchstones of her youth, from her First Communion to her first game of Twister. Ultimately, she revisits the troubles that surfaced in the wake of her assimilation into American culture: the constricting expectations of her family and community, her problems with alcoholism and depression, and her sometimes contentious but always loving relationship with her mother. Deftly recreating the emotional world of adolescence, but overlaying it with the hard-won understanding of adulthood, White Field, Black Sheep is a poignant and moving memoir—a lively tale of this Lithuanian-American life.


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Her parents never really explained what a D.P. was. Years later Daiva Markelis learned that displaced person was the designation bestowed upon European refugees like her mom and dad who fled communist Lithuania after the war. Growing up in the Chicago suburb of Cicero, though, Markelis had only heard the name T.P., since her folks pronounced the D as a T: In first grade Her parents never really explained what a D.P. was. Years later Daiva Markelis learned that “displaced person” was the designation bestowed upon European refugees like her mom and dad who fled communist Lithuania after the war. Growing up in the Chicago suburb of Cicero, though, Markelis had only heard the name T.P., since her folks pronounced the D as a T: “In first grade we had learned about the Plains Indians, who had lived in tent-like dwellings made of wood and buffalo skin called teepees. In my childish confusion, I thought that perhaps my parents weren’t Lithuanian at all, but Cherokee. I went around telling people that I was the child of teepees.” So begins this touching and affectionate memoir about growing up as a daughter of Lithuanian immigrants.  Markelis was raised during the 1960s and 1970s in a household where Lithuanian was the first language. White Field, Black Sheep derives much of its charm from this collision of old world and new: a tough but cultured generation that can’t quite understand the ways of America and a younger one weaned on Barbie dolls and The Brady Bunch, Hostess cupcakes and comic books, The Monkees and Captain Kangaroo. Throughout, Markelis recalls the amusing contortions of language and identity that animated her childhood. She also humorously recollects the touchstones of her youth, from her First Communion to her first game of Twister. Ultimately, she revisits the troubles that surfaced in the wake of her assimilation into American culture: the constricting expectations of her family and community, her problems with alcoholism and depression, and her sometimes contentious but always loving relationship with her mother. Deftly recreating the emotional world of adolescence, but overlaying it with the hard-won understanding of adulthood, White Field, Black Sheep is a poignant and moving memoir—a lively tale of this Lithuanian-American life.

30 review for White Field, Black Sheep: A Lithuanian-American Life

  1. 4 out of 5

    David Schaafsma

    6/17-16: I read this collection quickly last October, looking for "growing up Chicago" stories. A Russian-American undergraduate student, one of my team of crack researchers for this book project, found the book, and I loved everything I read, but read it quickly, skimming what didn't seem to be pertinent to "growing up" appropriate to a younger audience. This time I reread it more slowly, in the past week, to make sure we had the stories we thought were best for our purposes, and to just slow 6/17-16: I read this collection quickly last October, looking for "growing up Chicago" stories. A Russian-American undergraduate student, one of my team of crack researchers for this book project, found the book, and I loved everything I read, but read it quickly, skimming what didn't seem to be pertinent to "growing up" appropriate to a younger audience. This time I reread it more slowly, in the past week, to make sure we had the stories we thought were best for our purposes, and to just slow read the whole thing, to enjoy it. And I did, very much. What I noticed this round is that Markelis is "in my age group" and recalls things from the sixties and seventies I also recall: The Monkees, Twister, Twinkies, and so on. Visits to The Chicago Art Institute yearly to make sure we knew the very best of "culture". She really writes detailed descriptions of growing up in suburban Cicero, describing street corners, naming buildings. Cicero is known for a march in the sixties where the KKK and black activists clashed, and she writes of that. She is a rhetorician and writes a lot about what it is like for an immigrant family to try to hold on to language and culture; after a week in public schools watch Saturday she goes to Lithuanian school, to teach them Lithuanian language, culture, and history. She goes to Lithuanian Scout Camp! This is a memoir made of a series of stories rather than a continuous narrative. Markelis can be sweet in memories of family, and she can also be edgy. The early stories don't reveal the more satirical woman she becomes in later stories, the woman who has relationship struggles, who struggles with depression, who becomes an alcoholic, though certain warmth and humor always comes through. 10/20/15: A lovely collection of essays about growing up Lithuanian-American in Chicago/Cicero. Lovely writing, amusing insights, surprisingly engaging! I am putting together a collection of essays/stories about growing up in Chicago from a variety of perspectives, and this sort of came out of nowhere for us (my team of people looking for such stories). Who of us knew about growing up Lithuanian-American anywhere, much less Chicago?! Well, if you have read muckraker journalist and novelist Upton Sinclair's novel of wage slavery in the meatpacking industry in Chicago at the turn of last century, The Jungle, focusing on the terrible living conditions for Lithuanian-Americans here, you may in fact know something. It's the immigrant experience, the union experience. The stories in this collection, non-fiction and taking place ninety years later, and were a treat to read. She makes her mother, father, and sister come alive the way a memoir should, she hugs them and mocks them in ways we expect, and we grieve their losses when her parents die. We come to like her and find the Lithuanian-American experience unique and also much like our own.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Zinta

    Opening this autobiography of a woman born to immigrant Baltic parents and growing up in the United States was like looking into a mirror. Indeed, the similarities between the life of Daiva Markelis, a Lithuanian-American, and my own, a Latvian-American, are uncanny. I would more often than not feel as if I were reading my diary, or at very least, that of a twin soul. Markelis was born in Chicago to parents who had fled Soviet-occupied Lithuania, growing up in Cicero. Chicago is home to the Opening this autobiography of a woman born to immigrant Baltic parents and growing up in the United States was like looking into a mirror. Indeed, the similarities between the life of Daiva Markelis, a Lithuanian-American, and my own, a Latvian-American, are uncanny. I would more often than not feel as if I were reading my diary, or at very least, that of a twin soul. Markelis was born in Chicago to parents who had fled Soviet-occupied Lithuania, growing up in Cicero. Chicago is home to the largest Lithuanian population outside of Lithuania. She was raised with Lithuanian as her first language: “At home, my parents talked to my sister and me in Lithuanian. They watched for the intrusion of English words into our speech the way high school biology students look under a microscope for germs.” (Page 17) Not only language, but Markelis was raised on the premise that this life, here, in the States, was a temporary if unfortunate condition, and that someday, some distant and fantastical day, the family would pack up and go back home. “ … there was the chance, infinitesimal as it was, that the Russians would leave Lithuania, evicted by the superior force of the United States, whose leaders, realizing that their blind acceptance of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had been a mistake of the most horrible kind, would go to any length to rectify their error. And then we could go back—we could all go back.” Substitute Latvia for Lithuania in any of this, and this is my story, too. Speaking English in the hallowed halls of Saturday Latvian School might earn one a swift reprimand (but I earned a swift slap from my American public school kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Johnson, when I could not pronounce the “th” sound in “thumb,” a sound that was non-existent in my Baltic tongue), and the idea of assimilation into our American surroundings was anathema. We were not in any melting pot. Not even in a mixed salad. We were as separate as water and oil, to be skimmed away at any given moment should the gates to home open. Markelis writes of her childhood and youth in the 1960s and 1970s with an almost raw truthfulness that can’t help but earn the reader’s respect. She pokes fun at herself and her life even while maintaining an inherent dignity. To be the child of immigrants means to be set apart, not only from one’s surroundings, but even within one’s family. The child grows up in a world that will always remain, at least on some level, alien to the parents, and must learn to navigate both, belong to both, step seamlessly from one to the other and back again. So Markelis can simultaneously show the reader the city streets of Chicago and the inner workings of an immigrant world. She does it effortlessly because she has grown up doing so. Yet there is a price to pay, too, and she speaks of this with the same honesty—her struggles with depression and alcoholism. Unfortunately, in this we share an ethnic connection, too, in that both of our Baltic countries have a high rate of alcoholism (according to some studies, highest in the world), and I have always thought this was directly related to both nations being repeatedly and cruelly oppressed in countless wars throughout the centuries. It is the burden we carry in our genes, but along with it, the ability to cope, as both Baltic nations also show a remarkable history of endurance and determination to survive. Markelis grows introspective at times in a personal search for meaning in her ethnic identity, even resisting it, even hating it, and I understand this, too. To be so closely identified with one’s ethnic background, so connected to one’s national history, means that it sometimes chafes and constricts—yet other times enriches in a way that others on the outside may not understand. I wouldn’t trade my ethnicity for anything, and I strongly suspect neither would Markelis. It is much like an extended family. One may on occasion blow off steam and slam doors and say unspeakable things among one’s own, but when push comes to shove, we defend our own against any and all, and love them, our family, to the bitter end. This same complexity enters Markelis’ relationship with her father, also an alcoholic, and her mother, who is stricken by cancer. She struggles with them as any child does, but her devotion and love come through again and again. She opens a window for us to see into her world, where she wears a Lithuanian folk costume on special occasions and attends Lithuanian school on Saturdays while American friends watch cartoons and wear jeans. She parties like there’s no tomorrow, but tomorrow comes with its lessons. From these lessons, Markelis grows, and in her sustains and somehow resolves all the juxtapositions and paradoxes of her identity, and makes them into her own true identity. In the end, it is hard for me to review a book that tells a story so closely aligned with mine. Can one truly be objective about a mirror image? I could only shake my head to realize that in thinking oneself so different from one’s surroundings, there were perhaps so many of us growing up in exactly the same way—and coming through just fine. In fact, much better than fine—wealthier for the added perspective on ourselves and the world around us with its endless diversity. See our interview with the author in the summer 2011 issue of The Smoking Poet.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Vilija

    This could have been a much better book had its writer not tried so hard to be poetic, and had she used a better editor. Markelis uses vaguely poetic prose, giving readers pieces of her life story. This approach falls flat for two reasons: her approach may alienate non-Lithuanians who will have no idea what she's talking about, and she doesn't offer enough puzzle pieces for the reader to be able to make a comprehensible picture of her life. Sure, it's cute to read a book that name-drops stuff This could have been a much better book had its writer not tried so hard to be poetic, and had she used a better editor. Markelis uses vaguely poetic prose, giving readers pieces of her life story. This approach falls flat for two reasons: her approach may alienate non-Lithuanians who will have no idea what she's talking about, and she doesn't offer enough puzzle pieces for the reader to be able to make a comprehensible picture of her life. Sure, it's cute to read a book that name-drops stuff Lithuanians can appreciate, like Krambambolis, "Zeme Kelia Zole," and the fact that the Lithuanian national costume is both sweltering and unflattering. But these random insights and vignettes are too loosely strung together to make a satisfying narrative. We read that she went to a Lithuanian summer camp but the significance of this is not explained; she struggled with alcoholism, but offers no reflection on becoming sober. I gather that she has been married twice, but I don't know why she divorced her first husband, or whether she's still married to the second. Her sister gets married at 19--and that's the last we hear of her. The episodes are poorly edited and don't segue very well. Thematic issues are mentioned, then dropped before they can be developed. A fascinating discussion of the cultural absence of Lithuania's Jews is brought up only to fizzle abruptly. She mentions cepelinai early on in an offhand comment, then brings them up later, as if for the first time, explaining what they are. I feel like Markelis is playing a game, but as the reader, I don't know what the rules are, or what I'm supposed to get out of it. As esu Lietuvaite, but that doesn't help me figure out what she's trying to do with this book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Daina

    Not only is this memoir of growing up in the Chicago Lithuanian community a must-read for any Baltic American, the book is also a a worthwhile read for anyone who grew up in the US in the 60s and 70s or in the Chicago area or who has experienced misunderstanding their parents' actions and motivations, as well as readers interested in immigrant experiences in the U.S. As the child of Latvian immigrants who also arrived after WWII (just like Markelis' parents), the author addressed and explored Not only is this memoir of growing up in the Chicago Lithuanian community a must-read for any Baltic American, the book is also a a worthwhile read for anyone who grew up in the US in the 60s and 70s or in the Chicago area or who has experienced misunderstanding their parents' actions and motivations, as well as readers interested in immigrant experiences in the U.S. As the child of Latvian immigrants who also arrived after WWII (just like Markelis' parents), the author addressed and explored many themes I am intimately familiar with, including a patriotic upbringing, the pride in one's language/culture/history, the vast yet often silent disappointment and frustration of dreams/futures deferred or stolen, the longing for home and familiarity, a deep love of all things cultural, the misunderstandings and confusion brought on by a new culture and country, the ubiquity of alcohol as a social lubricant and drowner of sorrows, the lack of understanding about mental health, the fear of disappointing one's family.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Disclaimer: I don't often read memoirs, in part because I find them to be overly sentimental. This memoir is certainly guilty of that, but I enjoyed it anyway. The author is refreshingly honest in her portrayal of herself (or at least, she doesn't shy away from talking about her faults or her alcohol abuse). I also related to her on a personal level, since her experience as a young girl growing up in an Eastern European community in the US were remarkably similar to my own, some 40 years later.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Cassedy

    Beautiful, witty prose and a big heart illuminate this lovely tale of growing up in the Lithuanian-American community of Chicago. The intertwined stories of assimilation, urban life in America, a Catholic girlhood, generational change, adolescence -- these will ring true to millions of us and give us insight into our own lives. The window that Markelis so expertly provides into this specific community is new and eye-opening.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Heather Gunnell

    Such a great book. So easy to just pick it up and read right through it. Daiva's emotions come through the page so clearly. I was fascinated reading about the life of a child of Lithuanian immigrants. I'm of Lithuanian ancestry, but it was my great-great grandparents who immigrated here, so I'm quite far removed from the immigrant experience. Overall I highly recommend this title and I look forward to anything else Daiva Markelis releases.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joanne Thomson

    Since I am half-Lithuanian & grew up in Chicago during the same time period, I enjoyed this book. I am not sure beyond that, how much I enjoyed this book. It was rather random and hard to follow the time line. I think it must have been very therapeutic for the author. Luckily, it was short, so it was an easy read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gintare_v

    Given that I am interested in Lithuanian diaspora, I couldn't wait to pick this book after learning about it (shamefully late though...). Apart from being immercing and incredibly touching in many regards, this memoir also provided with answers to many questions that I was curious about but was too afraid to ask. Thank you!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Aldona

    I felt like I was reading my own life. I grew up the child of lithuanian d.p.'s in Boston, not Cicero, but it was all the same. Saturday lithuanian school, where we made fun of the teachers, classical music, poetry recitals, all the same. Markelis is a gifted writer, injecting humor and poetic nuance into her story and I look forward to more from her.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mary Maddox

    White Field, Black Sheep is the finely written and engaging story of a girl growing up in Chicago as the child of Lithuanian emigres, and of a woman coming to understand herself, her heritage, and her place in the world. It's an account of the author's loving relationship with her parents, especially her mother, whose battle with cancer forms the present-day narrative of the memoir. Along with fascinating insights into Lithuanian culture, Markelis gives the reader a vivid picture of life in White Field, Black Sheep is the finely written and engaging story of a girl growing up in Chicago as the child of Lithuanian emigres, and of a woman coming to understand herself, her heritage, and her place in the world. It's an account of the author's loving relationship with her parents, especially her mother, whose battle with cancer forms the present-day narrative of the memoir. Along with fascinating insights into Lithuanian culture, Markelis gives the reader a vivid picture of life in Cicero in the 1960's and 1970's. Despite some heartbreaking moments, her story is ultimately optimistic and often laugh-out-loud funny. The book itself is beautifully produced and illustrated with photographs of Chicago and the author's childhood. In short, White Field, Black Sheep has everything that is best about memoirs.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rosemary

    This memoir was fun to read since it takes place in a world(Cicero & Chicago 1960's-70's)) I knew as I was growing up, and even mentions Western Springs on pg 156. Her experiences as a daughter of Lithuanian immigrants, DP's, are fun to read and her story of being a daughter and sister just a little younger than I am made me smile. It is her story and worth reading, we are all entitled to our own story and perspectives and I enjoyed hers. The struggle to keep her heritage while being true to This memoir was fun to read since it takes place in a world(Cicero & Chicago 1960's-70's)) I knew as I was growing up, and even mentions Western Springs on pg 156. Her experiences as a daughter of Lithuanian immigrants, DP's, are fun to read and her story of being a daughter and sister just a little younger than I am made me smile. It is her story and worth reading, we are all entitled to our own story and perspectives and I enjoyed hers. The struggle to keep her heritage while being true to herself is particularly interesting as she seeks her own truth. Thanks to my friend who gave this to me for Christmas, we grew up swimming at Cermak pool together while our moms taught swimming lessons.

  13. 4 out of 5

    James Kraskouskas

    Every Lithuanian in America should read this book. It is well written, thoughtful and introspective. Those of us who live the Lithuanian/American experience often experience it from different perspectives. Daiva explains what it was like to be the daughter of DPs after the second world war. More importantly she reveals why different generations can't get along. The writting is excellent, the prose is perfect, the humor is unstoppable. If you are Lithuanian, and you have not read this book, stop Every Lithuanian in America should read this book. It is well written, thoughtful and introspective. Those of us who live the Lithuanian/American experience often experience it from different perspectives. Daiva explains what it was like to be the daughter of DPs after the second world war. More importantly she reveals why different generations can't get along. The writting is excellent, the prose is perfect, the humor is unstoppable. If you are Lithuanian, and you have not read this book, stop what you are reading,and buy it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Julie Morakis

    Reading this made me wish I had more frequently asked my parents about their parents' histories. The author brings to life the places and names from my Lithuanian upbringing in Chicago. Who knew our little hometown of Lemont would become the site of the Lithuanian Cultural Center!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mark Geisthardt

    This is a wonderful telling of a childhood through adulthood of the pulls of two different cultures set in the midst of family dynamics. This was a wonderful read and is an especially good read for those who have any connection to Lithuania. Thank you Daiva for sharing your stories!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie Irwin

    A brave memoir with dashes of humor. A wonderful portrait of growing up Lithuanian in Chicago. Reading this touching book encouraged me to reflect on and make meaning of my own family's experiences over the course of four generations in Chicago.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ruta Sevo

    Very interesting to Lithuanian-Americans for the close look at growing up in the community in Chicago. I didn't and found it very interesting to see inside the community through her life.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    I found this memoir, told in vignettes, to be a brilliant investigation of cultural identity. I recommend it to anyone interested in migrant life, cultural history or the psychology of trauma.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    I enjoyed this memoir. A good mix of humor while opening a window into the life of the displaced persons from Lithuania after the Soviet bastards invaded.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    I enjoyed this memoir and found the author a sympathetic character. I did not grow up in Chicago or have a recent immigrant background like Markelis, but I am roughly the same generation (maybe 9 years-ish younger), and many of the cultural references resonated. Also, my parents were slightly more restrictive than average, forbidding sugary cereals and certain TV programs, limiting sweets, etc. (though Markelis's were far more strict).

  21. 4 out of 5

    Monika

    Saw many of my own experiences reflected in this biography. Some of the book is, at times, very unique to the large Lithuanian population of Cicero/Chicago, but in general I found it to be a nice and commiserative read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Roxane

    Review here: http://htmlgiant.com/reviews/48953/ A lovely, lovely book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    Loved this book

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sam Fishel

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rachael

  26. 5 out of 5

    Oksana

  27. 4 out of 5

    Adrian

  28. 4 out of 5

    Adina Viele

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lina

  30. 4 out of 5

    Betty

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