Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Girl in Saskatoon by Sharon Butala

The Girl in Saskatoon
by Sharon Butala

Presented in  paperback by publisher Harper Perrenial ; A Phyllis Bruce Book in 2008 as “A meditation of friendship, memory and murder.”

These descriptors  alone captivated me instantly. 

Additionally the book was listed  as  a Globe 100 “Best Book of the Year”.  For 262 pages,  it kept my interest all the way to the very end. The author had been personally connected to the victim and searched  for meaning in the violence that took her life, in the mystery of  an inconclusive investigation and a metaphysical probing of “what might have been or could have been”.

The narrative  evolves around  the death of Alex Wiwcharuk on the banks of the Saskatchewan River in 1961 which was presented  on CBC as a “ 5th Estate” documentary and titled “Death of  a Beauty Queen”, aired in January in 2004 and presented on line on October 22, 2008. The facts are there and revisited in Butala’s book. However, Sharon Butala’s story goes beyond legal facts. She presents the soul and character of the victim Alex – the wonderful attributes that made this young woman a great success as a human being, as the daughter of a Ukrainian Canadian immigre family who nurtured her development to enable to her to have the very best in cultural, educational and social opportunities so that she would be their shining emblem of success and a statement on “a life worth living”. They had succeeded in their nurturing. Alex was well loved, talented, become a beauty queen and a professional nurse. Tragically, a demon intervened and devastated everyone’s hopes and expectations for Alex. Only the author, Sharon Butala appears to understand the vastness of the tragic death for the family and the community that valued Alex as their measure of success.

Impressions offered by Christine Turkewych

Mammoth by Larissa Andrusyshyn

by Larissa Andrusyshyn
(DC Books, 2010)

Larissa Andrusyshyn’s anthology of poems, Mammoth, is not only a powerful and moving tribute to her deceased father, but also a means of probing and analyzing the meaning of life and death itself.

Relying on repeated themes of family, the Ukrainian immigrant experience and personal loss, Andrusyshyn weaves her recollections together by connecting the seemingly fragmented images together through the unlikely use of scientific metaphors – life being examined through a microscope, extinct life forms revived in a petri dish.

This is especially evident in her poems describing her father’s illness and death.  It is almost as though by examining this heart-wrenching experience through a paleontologist’s technique of dissecting and reconstructing relics from the past, she can accept the inevitable and come to terms with it.  She loses him to death, but revives his memory through her recollections and her poems.

Mammoth is not only a personal exploration of complex human emotions but also an examination of the significance of life itself.  It raises more questions than it answers as evident in this excerpt:

               “What would you want known about you?
                  That you invented?  Or were kind?  Or made at times    
                   a hell of your own planet?  (from the poem Voyageur)

Commentary provided by Irene Hordienko, Toronto ON

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Under this Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell

Under this Unbroken  Sky
by Shandi Mitchell
Winner of the Kobzar Literary Award, 2012

Shandi Mitchell’s vivid depiction of the harsh and often brutal reality of Depression-era pioneer life and her extraordinary ability to delve into the very essence of human suffering captures the reader’s imagination from the first page.

The novel revolves around a Ukrainian immigrant family’s struggles to overcome almost insurmountable obstacles to build a new life for themselves on the harsh prairie landscape.  Teodor Mykolayenko returns to his family after spending a year in prison for the ‘crime’ of trying to feed them. During this time, his family has been looked after by his sister, Anna.  Now, finally, upon his return, Teodor and his wife strive to put the past behind them and, with renewed resolve and back-breaking work, slowly start cultivating their newly-acquired farmland and rebuilding their family.  Just as their dreams approach realization, their happiness is shattered by the return of Anna’s errant husband whose ill-disposed plans threaten to take away everything they have built.  The ensuing tragic developments rip family apart and challenge the very survival of the human spirit.

This story of family love and deception, resilience and fragility is bound together by the almost lyrical descriptive passages of the harsh prairie setting which provides the ideal backdrop for this testing of the human will.  This is a book that is hard to put down.

(Impressions of Irene Hordienko, Toronto ON)