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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Cowboy from Prague: An Immigrant’s Pursuit of the American Dream by Charles Ota Heller is a powerful memoir that tells of a frightened young boy coming to America following the Second World War and his family’s determination to assimilate into their new country and literally attempt to create the “American Dream”. Charles Heller was just nine years old when the Nazi stormtroopers swept into Czechoslovakia in 1939. Charles’ father made it to Palestine where he fought in the Czech Brigade, alongside the Allies against the Nazi invaders. With his part Jewish family, Charles was in grave danger, and with 25 members of his family lost to the Holocaust, he spent the war years hidden from the Germans on a farm. After reuniting with his mother and father following the war's end, the Heller family set about rebuilding their once comfortable and relatively wealthy lives. The communists' rise to power in Czechoslovakia, though, ended any dreams of staying in their homeland. Declared “enemies of the state,” the Hellers escaped to American-occupied Germany, with not much more than the clothes on their backs, and sought to move to the United States. After two years in a refugee camp, they finally realized their dream of a new life in the land of freedom. We follow Charles’ rise from “just another filthy immigrant” to a successful businessman, academic, husband, and father in his adopted land.
Cowboy from Prague is a moving account of the immigrant story. Author Charles Ota Heller gives us all a timely reminder of the courage and determination it takes for anyone to leave their homeland, often with nothing, and move to a foreign land where they do not speak the language and know virtually no one. With “immigrant bashing” high on the current political rhetoric, this story of the Heller family’s courage and perseverance is a wonderful reminder that the vast majority of those forced to flee their homelands are seeking nothing more than peace, security, and an opportunity to create a successful life. I particularly liked that the author made no attempt to gloss over his own shortcomings and failures in this grand voyage of personal discovery. I appreciated his subtle humor as he examined his own motivations and justifications for his life’s decisions. He has led a fascinating and interesting life in the field of both business and academia, which makes the entire narrative more enthralling and interesting. I also enjoyed the nostalgia of the journey as he describes his teenage years, his obsession with American sports, and his dreams of the future. What always shines through in this story is the author’s love of family as well as a somewhat late but nevertheless vitally important understanding of who he really was and his ethnic and cultural heritage. This is an incredibly easy read and one that I can highly recommend.