MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW
Readers of historical fiction centered around World War I will find The Apple King a powerful story that winds 1881 immigrant Nikola Markovich’s secret and a journey to a new life in America with events that bring him full circle back to Croatia, where he confronts the past and his future.
From Nikola's poverty-stricken European heritage and his success in the apple industry in the new country to a legacy that draws him back into a world stuck in a bygone era, there to confront his failures, successes, and opportunities for redemption, Barbara Anne King paints a gripping portrait of Europe, America, and one man's pivot points.
As generations of patriotic pride in the Croatian city of Ragusa influence Nikola's choices and lend to his decisions to reclaim his heritage, the milieu of a world teetering on the edge of war comes alive through his perceptions and experiences.
What Nikola finds when he returns is an uneducated country that has made little headway out of poverty under the Austrian Regime. The next generation who would have fought for it has left for bigger promises. Nikola's return portends many big changes not just for him, but for the countries he loves, which share the common value of freedom.
To many in his new home, Nikola is "...just another Croat seeking his fortune in California." As readers move through Nikola's experiences with fellow immigrants from different countries, his connections to his homeland and his newfound successes in America, and the ties which draw him back to his roots, they receive a powerful saga steeped in European and American history and culture at the turn of the century.
Barbara Anne King's ability to intersect the personal ideals, secrets, dreams, and struggles of Nikola's life with bigger-picture thinking about liberty and the choices of individuals and nations alike provides historical novel readers with the opportunity to understand many influences on World War I's prewar milieu.
Those who seek insights on Croatian culture, in particular, will relish all the details of a world which too rarely receives much in-depth exploration.
From Serbia's dream of a Slav empire (shared by other Slav countries, including Croatia) and the end result of its victory in the Balkan Wars to the struggle to "seize the moment before it flees," King crafts a satisfying juxtaposition between political events and personal struggle as the story evolves.
There are no singular or simple perspectives here. From the complicated relationships between immigrants from different countries to the evolution of California's lucrative apple industry, King gives examples of all kinds of growth on many different levels.
The Apple King is a compelling saga of struggle between generations, countries, political objectives, and social transformation. It brings readers into a compelling situation and the life of a young man challenged economically, morally, and ethically by many hard decisions in a fast-changing world.— D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
This historical novel presents the classic story of immigrants building better lives through faith in the American dream, hard work, and solidarity. Nikola Markovich, a second son, leaves Croatia around 1880 to seek work in America. After a series of setbacks and misadventures, Nick settles in Watsonville, California, south of San Francisco, a place well known for the apples that are grown, packed, and shipped from there. But challenges still loom. Eastern Europeans are resented and reviled by the ruling class in Watsonville, the Irish. There is violence, particularly arson. But the Slavs, a mixed group in Europe, stick together in Watsonville. Nick marries Jelena Babich, a worthy Croatian girl, and they prosper. Nick’s brother, Francis, is enticed to leave home and join his sibling in the apple business. Eventually, Nick becomes a real mover and shaker in his adopted town and a rich man. History deals blow after blow—the San Francisco earthquake, World War I, the Spanish flu, and so forth—but the Markoviches are, above all, survivors. ... The town becomes known as the Apple Capital of the World, thanks largely to the diligence and vision of a Croatian peasant who saw his chance and took it. An engaging and heartwarming tale about an enterprising Croatian immigrant in California. — Kirkus Reviews