Set in the 1930s; the harrowing story of a Ukrainian family striving to establish a home in the Canadian tundra. Destitute, Maria struggles alone to provide for her five children when husband Teodor finally returns from being unjustly imprisoned. Daily life and routine resumes without much fanfare. Maria and Teodor begin to see the fruits of their labor as she earns a modest income selling items from a garden she tends to, and he builds a house that allows the family to move out of the shack they live in. Just when their life seems full of hope, demise appears in the form of Teodor’s brother-in-law Stefan, who sets in motion events that undermine everything Maria and Teodor have worked so hard to build.
This is a heart-wrenching story, which makes it unsuitable for the faint-of-heart. In its reading, you glimpse everyone’s burdens: the weight of the world in Teodor; a mother’s relentless worries in Maria; a child’s innocence and confusion in Ivan; a young man’s struggle towards manhood in Myron; unworthiness due to a birth defect in little Lesya; an emotional abyss in Anna; chilling selfishness in Stefan. Having developed such vivid characters, you cannot help but root for this family’s peace and comfort. But for some, life doesn’t deal such comforting hands. While a gloomy finish can be inferred from this review, the novel’s end still surprises and the stunning development of characters makes it well worth reading.