Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell was for me the perfect read. Not only was the book terrific but it takes place in a part of the world I could totally relate to – Canada and even more precisely the prairie provinces where I reside. It makes a book so much more meaningful when you recognize places and when something is being described you can clearly see it since you’ve likely been there yourself. It is also about Ukrainian immigrants – another thing I could clearly relate to as my grandparents immigrated to Canada in the 1920’s.
I was hooked on this story from the beginning. It takes place in the 1930’s and it is about two families who immigrate to Canada from the Ukraine. Teodor Mykolayenko, a man who has spent 2 years in prison for stealing his own grain, is one of the men – a father of five children and husband to Maria – and finally free and coming home to the Canadian prairies. The other family is Teodor’s sister Anna, her husband and their two children.
While Teodor had been in prison Maria and Anna struggled to survive on the prairies as Anna’s husband is pretty much a deadbeat and not around. Now though Teodor is home. He has survived the harshest of conditions both in prison and out and is going to make a better life for his family. As soon as he gets on his feet Teodor and his oldest son are out in the fields getting them ready for planting. It is backbreaking work of the hardest kind and the author describes it in such a way that you can feel the pain and sweat going into the work.
In the meantime we learn about how Canadian women planted rows upon rows of food for the family and the work that went into preserving it for the winter. We are given great insight into a truly poor family who had to struggle for everything. There is never enough money for the things they truly need let alone want. It only takes one devastating drought or fire to completely destroy a farmer’s life and leave his family facing a winter of starvation. It is definitely enough to put any man under.
Along with the harsh conditions it seems Teodor’s sister Anna is losing her mind bit by bit rather quickly. Since Anna’s husband is gone it falls on Teodor to take care of her and her family as well. However nothing stays the same and Anna’s husband stumbles home one day and everything really heads downhill after that – Stefan is not a nice man. He cares nothing for his family and his only concern is how to get a hold of the money from the crops even though he did nothing to bring them about. With his arrival also comes a downward spiral of events with devastating consequences.
This novel is beautifully written. For me it held a personal touch as my own parents grew up in the 1940’s as children on the prairies. Their parents immigrated to Canada and struggled farming much like Teodor’s family did. I enjoyed the Ukrainian slang throughout the novel as well as reading about a lot of food that I hold dear to my heart like perogy and borshch.
This is a heartbreaking story yet beyond that is the realization that this novel is very true to life as it was lived in the prairies in the 1930’s/1940’s. It makes you sit back and realize how truly lucky we are now to have what we do. It is interesting to read how life was back then for families who immigrated to Canada and tried to make a life for themselves and their families. You can feel the hope they carried in the words of this novel; the determination they had to make things better for themselves.
I really would recommend this novel to anyone interested in learning how life was back on the Canadian prairies in the 1930’s as well as those interested in a good story that will grab your heart and not let go until well after you’ve read the last page and passed on the novel to your mom to read!
I read Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell for her book tour with TLC Book Tours. You can see what other bloggers on the tour thought of the book here. You can order your very own copy of Shandi’s novel here in the US and here in Canada. Be sure to pop in and visit Shandi Mitchell’s website too!
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