Tuesday, August 18, 2009

REVIEW: Under this Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell

From a passionate new voice in the world of literary fiction comes the story of one family's struggle to survive-a tribute to the resiliency of the human spirit told with great sensitivity and cinematic aplomb.

Spring 1937. Ukrainian immigrant Theo Mykolayenko returns to his wife, Maria, and their five children after nearly a year spent in prison-two hundred and seventy five days and nights, each a scratch on his cell wall-for the crime of stealing grain. Scrapping to make ends meet during Theo's absence, the Mykolayenkos had been living under the care of Theo's sister, Anna, on the harsh and unforgiving Canadian prairies. Now, home at last, Theo has determined to make a better life for them all. Channeling the willpower that enabled him to survive drought, starvation, warfare, and Stalin's crimes in the Ukraine, he takes to the land with great resolve.

As the crops grow, so do the strength of his children and Theo's fierce pride. But family peace is quickly disrupted by the return of Anna's rogue husband, Stefan. Tensions between the two men heighten as Stefan increasingly treats Theo like a hired hand and demands a cut from the sales of the
crops. Soon, the family is splintered-with brother pitted against sister, son against mother, and in a disturbing twist, a new mother against her newborn.

Building to an unforgettable climax, this is the story of an immigrant family trying to find their way in a new world, where small and innocent acts have enormous and catastrophic consequences. It is a harrowing tale of fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sisters, and brothers whose desperate hands till the earth, while equally desperate minds plot much darker deeds.Everything that the Mykolayenkos have hoped for, dreamed of, worked for beyond exhaustion is now at stake-their loved ones, and their lives. Rich in emotion and suspense, this sublimely crafted first novel hails the arrival of a superbly talented literary voice.

My Thoughts

Wow. This is a tough one. Not because I didn't like this book-- I loved this book-- but because it was so gut-wrenching at times that I question: Did I enjoy it?

But the verdict is "yes", for the most part, I did enjoy it. Even though there were moments in the book when I would sit with the book held in my hands, still closed, and take a deep breath and prepare myself to read on. Because I knew. I knew what was about to come was going to be hard to read. And I dreaded reading the words, even though I already knew what they would say.

This is the story of two families. Well, one family really. It is the story of a brother and sister, and their separate yet devastatingly entwined lives. It is about hardship and decisions-- the choices that we make in our lives. How those choices affect those around us.

Siblings Anna and Teodor fall on hard times in the Ukraine, and escape to Canada in the 1930s. Life there is harsh. Anna was once a jewel in a poverty-stricken family. She was unhappy with her position in life and dreamed of something more. Along came Stefan, a charming soldier who swept her off her feet. Anna marries Stefan, with hopes of escaping her life, and finds herself doomed with a cruel and heartless man.

Flash forward and we now find Anna a despondent and hopeless woman raising two children and abandoned by her worthless husband. She is living on land in brutal Canada, with her brother Teodor's wife and children living in a shack out back since Teodor was sent to prison a year before for the single crime of withholding some of his grain for himself and his starving family.

Teodor now returns, and the rollercoaster of ups and downs begin. You get to see the polarization of two different families. Anna's family is a shambles, living life with no direction, depending on Teodor for their survival. Teodor's family, on the other hand, works like a well-oiled machine. Hard-working and enduring, nothing stops them. They face life head-on, while Anna's family lies defeated.

I loved the writing style of this book. I loved the characters, which I really got to know through all of the little details that the author Shandi Mitchell includes. You really get to know these people, and like or dislike them. That is why it was so hard for me to read on when I knew that something terrible was about to happen-- I knew these people; I liked these people. I didn't want to see anything more happen to them. I wanted to shake Anna and tell her to wake up from her self-pitying stupor and take care of her family! I wanted to befriend Maria and be awed by her strength and selflessness. I wanted to take pride in Maria and Teodor's children. I wanted to save Anna's children.

This is a beautifully-written, heart-wrenching story that I highly recommend. I'm left feeling as if my sister and her family has moved away, and I miss them.

If you get the chance to read this one, grab it! In fact, I will be giving away my ARC in the upcoming weeks, so keep your eyes open!
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Pub. Date: September 08, 2009
  • ISBN-13: 9780061774027
  • 352pp
My Rating: 9.5 out of 10


Jo-Jo said...

Thanks for the review...this definitely sounds like a good one!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I posted my review on this today too! I really liked it. I know Maria is supposed to be a saint, but I kind of got annoyed with her too, for enabling Anna's bad behavior!

Staci said...

This is an excellent review!! The book elicited so many emotions from you...I love it when words have that capability to do that to you!! I'm going to have to add this one to my book buddy blogger recommended list!!

Cathy said...

Hi! This is a great review! I too liked the book and the discussion during FL.