Spring 1938. After nearly two years in prison for the crime of stealing his own grain, Ukrainian immigrant Teodor Mykolayenko is a free man. While he was gone, his wife, Maria; their five children; and his sister, Anna, struggled to survive on the harsh northern Canadian prairie, but now Teodora man who has overcome drought, starvation, and Stalin's purgesis determined to make a better life for them. As he tirelessly clears the untamed land, Teodor begins to heal himself and his children. But the family's hopes and newfound happiness are short-lived. Anna's rogue husband, the arrogant and scheming Stefan, unexpectedly returns, stirring up rancor and discord that will end in violence and tragedy.
Under This Unbroken Sky is a mesmerizing tale of love and greed, pride and desperation, that will resonate long after the last page is turned. Shandi Mitchell has woven an unbearably suspenseful story, written in a language of luminous beauty and clarity. Rich with fiery conflict and culminating in a gut-wrenching climax, this is an unforgettably powerful novel from a passionate new voice in contemporary literature.
"Starred Review. Remarkable...itchell's harrowing story delivers an unforgettable literary tribute to an immigrant people and their struggle. The lyrical style, the riveting historical material, and the treatment of prejudice make the novel a great book-club choice." - Booklist
"Starred Review. This book will have immediate appeal to readers searching for superb historical fiction filled with tension, unforgettable characters, and a dramatic setting. Enthusiastically recommended." - Library Journal
"Utterly gripping. Epic in scope, this tale of family feuds, violence and hardship follows the fortunes of Theo Mykolayenko, a Ukrainian survivor of Stalin's labour camps who starts a new life in the harsh Canadian Prairies...Beautifully pitched and unsentimental in execution. Brilliant." - Marie Claire (UK)
"A magnificent novel....A powerhouse of a debut that grips from start to finish." - Steven Galloway, author of the The Cellist of Sarajevo
"This ambitious novel...comprises a harsh picture of lives lived in an unforgiving landscape, though some readers may find themselves wishing for an occasional break from the grinding woe." - Publishers Weekly
"Not much style or literary finesse, but the family's plight is affecting." - Kirkus Reviews
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Rated of 5
Gail B. (Albuquerque, NM)
Seeking an Unbroken Sky
At a time when the Dust Bowl was raging across the American plains, Ukrainian families fled the misery and oppression of Stalin's regime to make a fuller life in the Western Canada prairie.
This is the story, drawn from the author's family history, of a family determined to succeed in a new home. Despite one tragic event after the other, the family continues to dream of a bountiful future, living free under an unbroken sky. Yet, try as they may their luck never changes, never improves. They fall victim to every disaster possible -- natural as well as humanly induced. Ultimately, even the most innocent events have profound effect on their fate. Shandi Mitchell tells this immigrant tale with vigor and empathy and eloquence that make it a gripping read.
Rated of 5
Andrea S. (Lafayette, IN)
Well done telling of life on the plains of Canada
This book was a very intense look at a little piece of Canadian history I was not familiar with. Ukrainian families were recruited to come and settle the plains of Canada in the 1930's during the Stalin era. Under This Unbroken Sky is the story of two of those families. The writing is rich and evocative, the characters are well drawn. You feel as if you are in the room with them, doing what they are doing, seeing the animals in the barn, or working the fields. It is not a light and happy tale, but a look at people who move far to change their lives and how it doesn't always turn out the way they plan.
Rated of 5
Marta M. (Tustin, CA)
This was a beautifully written novel. It kept me riveted from the first page. The characters are fully drawn and it was a pleasure to read such lyrical writing. I only gave it 4 stars because I have a hard time with depressing novels. This should be a favorite of book clubs all over North America.
Rated of 5
Jo B. (DeRidder, LA)
Under This Unbroken Sky
This was a most enjoyable book. I loved the detail of the characters and the description of the land. The reader really gets the feel for the hard life that these people lived. There was an element of surprise as you went along which kept it from being predictable. I would recommend this book.
Rated of 5
Arden A. (Homosassa, FL)
A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words
A picture is worth a thousand words, or so the saying goes. In this book, "Under This Unbroken Sky," the words are worth a thousand pictures. You can see the stark landscape, the animals, both wild and human, scavenging for survival, which is the operative word here, because in the 1938 savage Canadian wilderness, life as we know it does not exist; rather life is about survival.
My words cannot do justice to the beauty, albeit stark, of this first novel. I have seen the word "depressing" used to describe it, but even if that is the case, i could not put it down. I'm there, in the cold, dreary, angry winter, and I'm there in the warm months when the ground needs to be planted with the seeds of the families' survivals. There is love, the love of the land "under this unbroken sky," and there is hate and misunderstanding; there are good people, who work hard and try to do what is right and just, and there are bad people. Or are there? This was a wonderful novel.
Rated of 5
Sue P. (Richardson, TX)
Still Reeling From This Debut Novel
I was so involved with the characters in this novel that I dreamed of them. The suspense rivals the most nail-biting thriller I've ever read; the passion and beauty of the language is sometimes overwhelming; and you will never forget the climax. Not an easy read, but a wonderful one.
Shandi Mitchell is an award-winning Canadian filmmaker and screenwriter. Her short films have screened at numerous international festivals, and she is a recipient of a Canada Council for the Arts endowment. Mitchell spent her childhood on a military base on the prairies and now makes her home in Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada, with her husband, Alan, and their dog, Annie. Under This Unbroken Sky is her first novel.
Watch the author explain the backstory to the book here; and print out a reading guide here.
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