Tag Archives: CanadianBookChallenge5

The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud

The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud

W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2011

Borrowed from my library.  Winner of the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

First released by Gaspereau Press, a small publishing house in Nova Scotia, this novel tells the story of a daughter following the trail of her father’s past and trying to piece together the puzzle of her family and of the relationship formed between her Dad, Napoleon Haskell, and his friend Henry Carey.

The sentimentalists starts with the narrator and her sister moving their Dad from Fargo, North Dakota to Henry’s house, a house that sits on the shores of a lake in Ontario, Canada.   This is no ordinary lake.  It was created years ago, by a dam built to create a reservoir that flooded whole towns and covered the house and land that Henry, and Henry’s son Owen, had grown up in.

Skibsrud is a poet and the emotional depth of this small novel comes in images created by her beautiful way with language.  The lake holds memories, an unfinished boat holds the desolation of Napoleon’s marriage.  Eventually, Napoleon is dying, we learn some of his history and the basis for the connection between him and Henry.

There was something in his voice, though – an apology for something too big for him, and which was perhaps not even intended for me – and still, he regarded me as he spoke.  Still, it was as though he were in fact reaching out.  As though he were in fact touching me.  But for once he did not, and after some time passed into which we again said nothing, I started the motor on the boat and drove off.  From page 126.

There is  sadness in the novel, also a sense of resolution and deep love.   I wondered how connected it’s roots are to Johanna Skibrud’s relationship with her  father.  Turns out part of it is based on her Father’s testimony at a hearing for an Article 32 investigation of an  incident at Quang Tri, South Vietnam, in October  1967.

It seems we are entering a time to revisit the war in Southeast Asia through fiction.  I have read two novels about Vietnam and one about Cambodia in the last two months.  Maybe it’s time to read The Things They Carried again.


Filed under Canadian, CanadianBookChallenge5, GillerPrize, LiteraryFiction, Review, Vietnam

Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell

Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell

HarperCollins, New York, 2009

Borrowed from my local library.  This is my first book for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.  I first read about this book over at Fizzy Thoughts.

This is a family saga.  A story of Ukrainian farmers who, under Joseph Stalin’ s agricultural policies, lose their home and their land.  They leave their country and travel to the plains of Alberta, Canada.   The Canadian government offered land, cheap, for those who  homestead.  For Teodor, Maria and their children this is a way to rebuild their lives.

The novel opens with Teodor returning from prison.  His family has managed to survive by living in a shed on his sister Anna’s land.

Teodor remains seated.  They face one another, waiting.  Him inside the room, them frozen in the doorway.  It is Ivan who takes the first step forward.  This small five-year-old boy, with his tousle of sun-bleached hair, missing tooth, chewed fingernails, walks up to his father and stands bravely before him.  He takes the man’s face in his hands and brings it close to his own.  He stands on tiptoe and squints as he stares into his father’s eyes.  He looks past the bloodshot white, past the blue and gray flecks, and looks directly into the black center.

“It’s him,” he decrees and throws his arms around his father’s neck as he climbs onto his lap and babbles about Petro, and the frog they found, and the cat that died, and the ice storm last year, and going to town, and Mama buying toffee, and still having some in his pocket, and his pants being too short, and the nail he stepped on, and the bird that got in the house, and can they get another dog…until Maria tells him hush.  From page 27.

This is a wonderful scene and there are many in this novel. Teodor is determined to clear land, farm wheat and build a house for his family but government corruption, pride and jealousy stand in his way.

Land up in these parts was untamed, choked by bush, rocks, and bogs.  The flat rich land further south went to the British and the gentrified.  This part of the country was allocated for Ukrainians, Germans, Russians, Hungarians and shared with the decimated Blackfoot, who had been pushed further and further north by train tracks, towns, and fences.  This was land set aside for laborers, non-whites, peasants with deep guttural language and mysterious customs.  It was a place for poor people, but the soil was rich.  From page 52.

Under This Unbroken Sky is  beautifully written, a tragedy that keeps showing glimmers of strength and hope.  What I liked most was Mitchell’s presentation of her characters.  From Teodor, Maria, and Anna to the many children, each character has a clear and distinct voice.  Some are likable, some are not.  I connected most with the children.  They suffer under the adults’ bad fortune and yet the future lies with them.  This is a well-researched, well-written historical novel.

Other reviews:

Fizzy Thoughts

Jules’ Book Reviews

Rhapsody in Books



Filed under Canadian, CanadianBookChallenge5, Historical Fiction, Review

Under the Midnight Sun – Did You Sleep?

If John organizes this read-a-thon for 2012 I promise to be more of a participant.  I did manage to stay up and read three-quarters of the way through Under This Unbroken Sky and had my copy of Galore sitting on the bedside table just in case I managed to stay awake.

Now I need to get ready to head the beach for the low tide.  Thanks and congratulations to all the participants.  I hope you had fun and read wonderful books!


Filed under Canadian, Events, Read-a-thon