17 February, 2013

Under This Unbroken Sky (Weekend Reads)

About the only time I read is right before bed. I snuggle under the quilts, a cup of warm almond milk with honey in hand and the book that generally lives beside the bed. Some nights I manage to make it through more than 2 pages before falling asleep. But if I don't grab those two pages I usually can't sleep. The next night I inevitably need to read one of those pages over to remind myself what happened.

You can see why it takes me a while to get through a book, at least since having my baby boy. Either through some miracle or because of good books, I've managed to get through two novels already this year! Two! The latest finish is Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell.

A friend loaned me this book solely on the premise that the story is about Ukrainian immigrants settling on the Prairies. Why, that's my background! No, I wasn't a settler, but my Dad was, after WWII. The setting, the descriptions of the home, the land, the people hit quite close to home for me. I saw my Baba in the women of the novel, both my Dad and my Dido in the men. I imagined the joy of a heart shaped rock in the children in the one room school house located uphill in both directions. I felt the dirt of the frozen floor.

I wonder if it was Mitchell's writing or my own experiences clouding the read. I mean, I've been on the farm my Dad's family settled and the quiet, tiny, drafty "cabin" they lived in. It was nestled on the edge of some trees, with a view to a massive stack of wood (for the stove), a slough, and the start of the farmland. Oh, how I hated going to that farm as a kid. So backwards, so scary. Now, however, I totally appreciate the labour, the hardship, the opportunity that cabin and farm provided. It only took me 25 years to get there.

This is also a story that goes beyond the hardship of settlement and tackles the struggles of family - abuse, alcoholism, mental illness, and sibling relationships. Or maybe that is still the story of settlement? There are painful, cringeworthy and heartbreaking scenes in the book that literally make you gasp and hold your stomach. There are joyous and beautiful moments of love that make you want to get up and dance.

Mitchell's writing is haunting. She captures turns of phrases familiar to this Ukrainian, she describes the farm in a way that has you digging out the dirt under your fingernails. And she captures the emotions of the characters so well too - one day you love one, the next day you want to smack the petulant child, and the day after that you desperately want to correct his confusion.

I'm a sucker for good storytelling, and this novel is it. Is it any wonder I managed to finish it in less that a month with my bedtime routine?


Esch House Quilts said...

Sounds wonderful! I can always use a good story recommendation :)

ann said...

I was looking for my next good read...thanks. My mom' s grandparents emigrated , although from England, and lived in a soddie in Saskatchewan until they built their house. My dad's family from Norway. I love our country of immigrants and their stories.

Andrea said...

This sounds so good. I never realized the Ukrainian settlement and strong influence here in alberta until we moved here. I too visited a friends farm in Andrew, which had the little settlement cabin in pristine original condition...fascinating. Thanks for the review, I'm going to see if I can download it!

liz said...

Thanks! I'm going to look for this book. I enjoy immigrant stories. My Polish Dad emigrated to Canada in 1948, after spending three years in a displaced persons camp, 3 years in three different concentration camps and 2.5 years as a P.O.W. doing horrible slave labor. He was just 21 and already drafted in to the Polish Army when Hitler invaded Warsaw, and he and his unit fought for just three weeks before being captured. Polish was my first language.

I love your quilting inspiration, and now I'll be looking forward to future book recs too! Thanks so much!

Lee D said...

thanks for the recommendation. I need a good read this week coming ;) One set of my great grandparents immigrated from England July 1876 to farmlands of Kansas. I can just imagine the trials and tribulations they went through homesteading.

elizabeth said...

i have a very similar bed time reading ritual. i can relate to taking my time with books. This book sounds like a must read and i will add to my list! THanks

Elsa said...

My Grandfather was also a settler and had a farm in Northeastern Kansas. They lived a really hard life. My Dad was one of 13 children ~ they were very poor. He told so many great stories.
I was a So. California girl that dreamed of farm life ~ I always loved going to the farm every summer. I have to say that I was always appalled at having to use the outhouse. I'm proud to have the background I have and still have family that are farmers.
I'm going to have to give this book a read ~ thanks for the recommendation!