I finished Under This Unbroken Sky last weekend. I always drag my feet on the reviews.
This is the 3rd book I’ve read under the Barnes and Nobles First Look Book Club (Another one I put down after the first couple of chapters). The reviews of the other 2 are at LibrayThing.
It really is a pretty nice deal if you have the time to read an extra book and are actually interested in the selection. Anyhow, I was pleased with this book written by a debut author. This is after becoming a bit disgruntled with the previous debut author.
The story is set in Alberta Canada during the 1930’s and follows a recently immigrated Ukrainian family as they settle and struggle to farm the unrelenting land. They are escaping the rule of Stalin. Teodor is a farmer, the head of his household, and recently returned from prison for allegedly stealing grain the he planted and harvested. His wife Maria works hard to maintain the home, care for her children and retain their cultural heritage. Next door are his sister Anna and her husband Stefan and their children. Mitchell shows us the hardships and cherished moments of life on a farm during this time. We see that nature and family can support us and in another instant threaten to damage everything we have. The struggles to work the land and provide for the family are magnified by Teodor’s status as an ex-prisoner and the tensions that build between his sister and her often absent and abusive husband. Since Teodor can not legally own land he has made a deal with Anna to buy the land in his name and secure his dream. Things begin to go downhill after the deal is not honored resulting in a shocking and dramatic ending.
Mitchell intermingles recipes, letters, and descriptions of photos to add to the telling of this family’s life.
The beginning of the story presents a stark description of a family photo. We learn a lot about this family as we scan the photo but there are other things hidden behind the smiles. A series of letters gives the reader an up close look at the legal dispute over the land. Recipes for moonshine and a traditional Ukrainian staple provide background of the times and the culture. Using these elements gives the reader much more than a description. It goes beyond simply looking at the picture or reading dialogue about the land dispute.
In America we read books about the immigration and settling experience in America but this was my first read about settling in Canada, and about Ukrainian immigrants. Some things are similar: it’s a hard life, bigotry exists for the recently settled, immigrants struggle with ways to preserve culture and mingle with a new one, and the ‘new world’ offers a myriad of opportunities for success.