Friday, February 18, 2011

Review: Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2009
351p

An immigrant family struggles to survive.

Set on the Canadian Prairies, this is the story of an immigrant family whose desperate hands work the earth and preserve its gifts while equally desperate minds plot darker deeds.

In the spring of 1938, Teodor Mykolayenko returns to his family after a year spent in prison for the crime of trying to feed them. A survivor of war and Stalin's crimes in the Ukraine, Teodor refuses to be defeated by his adopted land. With desperate resolve he takes to the land, and as the crops grow, his family heals and strengthens. But the return of his sisters husband with an unforgivable plan threatens to take away everything they have built and does eventually have terrible consequences.

A  dark and intensely emotional book which really brings home the hardships these immigrants faced. The daily struggle to survive the forces of Nature - the burning heat of the summer and the danger of fire, the freezing depths of winter when starvation threatened and the toll it took from the minds and hearts of these people. What saves it from being too depressing are the very small things of everyday life in which the family find some joy, the love for their animals and the vegetable garden tended so carefully.

It's a book that will make anyone living comfortably in a 'New World' country pause for a moment and think about the hardships suffered, the courage and determination shown by their forbears. I know I did.

The writing is beautiful and evocative and makes for compelling, if often painful, reading. Very fine historical fiction which I enjoyed very much.

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