Canadian screenwriter Mitchell’s fiction debut tells the grimly tragic story of Ukrainian immigrants who have left the steppes for the vast, unforgiving Canadian prairie.
In the spring of 1938, Theo Mykolayenko returns to his family after 20 months in prison. He’s been confined for his failure to pay an $11-dollar debt, and his governmental creditors also seized his house, his barn, his tools and, three weeks before harvest, his fields of ripening grain, worth $70. But Theo is a man of fierce will and work habits. Before his stint in jail, he had already survived all sorts of miseries and privations back home, then 23 days in filthy steerage and 3 years of struggle to establish his crop. He rejoins his wife Maria, their five young children (ages 5 to13) and his sister Anna, all of whom have strived mightily to subsist in his absence, and they start over. But just when hope and the possibility of happiness sprout again in this inhospitable climate, Anna’s cruel and conniving husband Stefan returns. His machinations lead them inexorably back toward tragedy—worse this time because it’s caused not by unscrupulous outsiders, lenders or government bureaucrats, but by kinfolk.
Not much style or literary finesse, but the family’s plight is affecting.