Arts + Culture » Literary

Under This Unbroken Sky, Shandi Mitchell (Viking Canada)

Mitchell's first shows unbroken depth

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In Depression-era northern Alberta, Theo Mykolayenko returns to the family homestead an almost-broken man. He was imprisoned for breaking bureaucratic regulations regarding his own wheat. (He'd similarly suffered under the Ukraine's Stalinist regime.) Shandi Mitchell, a screenwriter and producer (see story on page 32), describes Theo's slow movements, the family's uneasy readjustment, with trimmed, precise language, active verbs and activated scenes. Mitchell carries this across the novel's breadth. Theo returns to the harvest, the family to happiness. They regain footing, while Theo's sister and her family, who live on neighbouring land, lose theirs. It all falls apart again for Theo. This country's collective memory holds as generally true that Western Canada was a wide-open wilderness broken by immigrants: men with lean, taut arms, women with unbreakable backs, children with early knowledge of hard, hard work. Without writers such as Mitchell, the experience and motivations that form the foundation of collective memory would be forgotten.

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