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Local author writes down family memories

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Every family has a history. Every family has a heritage. Every family has stories that make them who they are. For Afton resident Diane Dettman, her family's history became the basis for her book "Miriam daughter of Finnish immigrants."

"I didn't know that much about my own family until I actually did this project," she said.

"Miriam" tells the story of Dettman's grandparents who emigrated from Finland to Babbit, Minn., and how they lived with seven children during the Great Depression through a series of short stories and vignettes. The book is told from the perspective of Dettman's aunt Miriam.

"I didn't have as much of an understanding of the struggles my grandparents went through and how much hard work it was just to survive during that period of time and to raise seven children," Dettman said. "They were very dedicated to becoming Americanized, but they wanted to hold onto a certain amount of their heritage.

Dettman said "Miriam" is a true testament of the value and strength of women -- with her grandmother running a family mainly on her own, her aunt Miriam becoming a member of the women's army corps, Dettman herself doing the writing and Dettman's sister completing the sketches in the book.

"It speaks highly to the value of women in a lot of ways -- it's really a woman's piece of work," she said.

Dettman originally wrote her book back in 1995, but it was recently released in 2008 in honor, and memory, of Miriam who had recently

passed away.

Interviewing Miriam

Dettman's book began back in the early 1990's when her mother, the eldest living member of their family, had passed away and Miriam had begun to write down her memoirs.

Shortly after, Dettman was studying for her master's degree at Hamline University when she had an assignment to interview an older woman who had an interesting childhood and Dettman chose Miriam.

After that, Miriam continued to write her memoirs and send them to Dettman for review.

"Miriam wrote her memoirs on a manual type writer and carbon paper," Dettman said. "She began sending me a few pages here and there of the manuscript, so we passed it back and fourth in the mail for three years --we worked collaboratively on it."

Dettman said they received some interest in publishing the book, but nothing ever came of it so her and Miriam had to decide what to do with the book.

"I didn't want to give up on the project, so I got on my lawn mower and drove around for an hour trying to figure out what I'm gonna do," she said.

Dettman ultimately self-published the book, and self-promoted the book, in 1995.

Spreading the story

When "Miriam" was first released in 1995, there were around 500 copies that were printed, which have now sold out, and since it's reprinting in 2008, Dettman said she has sold several hundred already.

Dettman's book has sold copies around the country and has even made it as far as Finland.

Dettman said she is looking into possibly having the book translated into Finnish as well.

"The book has a real universal appeal, it's not just a Finnish story, it's a universal story of people trying to become part of our American society," she said. "By knowing the history of my family, I think people were more interested in learning the history of their own family -- I think a lot of people want to know more about their own background."

Future projects

Although "Miriam" was Dettman's first published book, she is no stranger to writing.

She is currently working on her second book, which is based on her life as a widow -her husband passed away in 2000 - and the struggles to rebuild her life. The working title for the book is "Mice in the kitchen: Trapped in grief."

"I just think it would be a book that a lot of people could benefit from --people who have gone through grief or a loss of someone," she said.

Dettman said she also has a few children's books and stories that could possibly turn into fiction books, but she said she is more drawn to the non-fiction side of writing.

"I do like the nonfiction and I don't even know why," she said. "Maybe it's just easier for me to write because it's just telling stories based on truth and it's just easier for me to get a sense of the details as opposed to having to imagine them."

Diane Dettman's book, "Miriam daughter of Finnish immigrants" can purchased online at,,, and it also for sale at a few independent bookstores.

For more information on Dettman, and her book, visit her web site at

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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