Tag Archives: Mennonite fiction

Review: Far Side of the Sea, by Janice L. Dick

Book cover: Far Side of the Sea, by Janice L. Dick

Far Side of the Sea, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2019)

Danny Martens, now a man, was an infant when his Mennonite parents fled the USSR to China in the 1930s. The refugees became farmers, then refugees again. At long last, they’re in a refugee camp in Germany—far from their promised destination in Oregon.

Far Side of the Sea is book 3 in the In Search of Freedom trilogy, beginning in 1951 and spanning 40 years to bring this multi-generational family saga to a satisfying conclusion.

I appreciate the characters, especially Rachel and Luise. Despite their many hardships, these two women live a sincere faith. They don’t deny the pain, but they choose to let it press them closer to their Saviour. Danny carries trauma he won’t share with them, and in his anger at God he bears it alone.

With this novel, we move from a foreign setting to the western US, and from the 1950s (which are still in the historical genre) to 1990, which is recent enough for me to remember. Readers with longer memories will enjoy recognizing nods to their past.

While you could enjoy this novel as a stand-alone, I recommend beginning with book 1, Other Side of the River. Take time to savour the Martens family’s full experience. As difficult as parts of their journey are, there are also moments of laughter. And some well-turned phrases.

Some of my favourite lines from this book:

As Rachel watched Luise from day to day, the older woman grew more tired, more worn. But then, they all felt weary after years of homelessness, persecution and fear, as though their souls were getting thin.

He didn’t even say amen, because now that he’d begun a conversation with God, he didn’t think the dialogue was over. [Danny, after a brief, desperate prayer for help.]

“A broken heart does not heal quickly, but it does mend enough to allow us to live again.” [Brigette, another favourite character, who doesn’t appear often.]

Historical novelist Janice L. Dick has also written Calm Before the Storm, Eye of the Storm, and Out of the Storm, a Mennonite historical series set during the Russian Revolution. For more about the author and her work, visit janicedick.wordpress.com.

[Note: I received an advance review copy from the author. My opinions are my own.]

Follow me on BookBub

Review: Consider the Sunflowers, by Elma Schemenauer

Consider the Sunflowers, by Elma SchemenauerConsider the Sunflowers, by Elma Schemenauer (Borealis Press, 2014)

In 1940s Saskatchewan, Tina Janz schemes to win the man who fascinates her, instead of the rich-but-boring man who impresses her Mennonite parents. Tina and Frank marry for love—or at least fascination—but it’s a rocky trail. They each have insecurities, attitudes and suspicions, and Tina is keeping a secret that may come back to hurt them both.

Consider the Sunflowers is a skillfully crafted literary novel that opens a window onto small-town life in World War Two-era western Canada. Little snippets of news and daily life help us understand the times, while Tina’s and Frank’s efforts to save their marriage will resonate with readers today.

Readers learn about Mennonite culture and prairie life, and about feeling like an outsider. There is a spiritual thread that’s organic to the novel, but it’s not about preaching. It’s about how the believers live their lives. Frank is honest about his inability to believe.

We also see the effects of self-pity, complaining, self-exclusion and manipulation, and in the seeing we may gain insight into our own lives. There’s a point in the story where Tina sees an amplified negative trait in another character and realizes she needs to change herself. As we watch her begin to change, it might inspire us to do the same.

My favourite lines:

Now she [Tina] was clinging to faith by her fingertips. One gust of wind and she’d reel off into some howling void of—what? She didn’t know; she’d never not believed before. [Kindle location 1408]

Adeline. The woman was like a poisoned well. She claimed Jesus poured springs of living water into her heart. Maybe he did, but Adeline poisoned them with her rudeness as fast as he poured them in. [Kindle location 1462]

He [Frank’s father] always shouted during long-distance phone conversations because they cost so much. [Kindle location 2184]

Do you remember old people shouting on long-distance calls? I do. I always thought they shouted because the sound had to travel so far.

Canadian author Elma Schemenauer is the author of 75 books and the editor of many more. Consider the Sunflowers is her first novel for adults. For more about the author and her novel, please visit her website. Or check out my interview with Frank Warkentin.

Paperback 299 pages $19.95, ISBN 978-0-88887-575-4, AVAILABLE FROM THE PUBLISHER, Borealis Press. Also available online at Chapters Indigo by about November 15. E-book coming in 2015.

[Review copy provided by the publisher.]

Meet Frank Warkentin

Imagine yourself in 1940. We’ll visit a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada, to meet Frank Warkentin, a young man who’s a central character in Elma Schemenauer’s new novel, Consider the Sunflowers.

Janet: It’s good to meet you, Frank. I know you’ve been in Elma’s heart for a long time. Since we can’t actually see you, how about you describe yourself?

Frank: You know that new movie Gone with the Wind? I look like the leading man, Clark Gable. Actually I’m joking. I’m taller, darker, and handsomer than Gable. I think so anyway.

Janet: Sounds like Mr. Gable has some competition! You’re not very old, but you’ve already picked up a variety of work experience. What are some of the highlights?

Frank: I’m twenty-seven. I’ve been a farmhand, logger, dishwasher, guitar-player, manure-shoveller—you name it. I travelled around a lot during the 1930s, going wherever there might be work. Jobs were hard to find.

Janet: And now you’re running the family farm. How did that happen?

Frank: My dad and stepmother moved to Alberta and left me the place, along with the equipment and livestock. Tractor, plough, one-way disk seeder, hayrack, closed-in sleigh, horses, cattle, pigs, chickens.

Janet: That sounds like a heap of responsibility. You’ve endured a lot of small-town gossip and prejudice over the years because of your heritage. Are you staying on the farm now to prove those people wrong, or do you really want to settle down? Or are you waiting for an opportunity to get away?

Frank: My dad is a Dutch-German Mennonite. He married a Gypsy in the Old Country, Russia. A match like that was unheard of. Even now, with my mother gone for years, people can’t forget I’m the product of that mixed marriage. They don’t expect me to settle down like a regular Mennonite. I want to prove them wrong.

Janet: The municipality of Coyote has a large Mennonite component, but there are other ethnic groups as well. Your Norwegian friends, and the Chinese man who operates the restaurant. Does everyone stick to their own group, or is there a sense of blended community?

Frank: People cooperate and help each other in these little prairie communities. They’ve got to. Life can be hard. At the same time, folks always keep in mind who’s inside and who’s outside their own group. I don’t fit into any of them, but I’m more comfortable with the non-Mennonites. They don’t carry all that Russian baggage.

Janet: As well as your friends, I hear there’s a certain young lady—or maybe two—who you’ve been spending time with. How did you meet Tina?

Frank: I met Tina on the train platform in town, west of here. She’s from this area but she works for her relatives in Vancouver. She’s got a good job. I’m proud of her.

Janet: Is she “the one”?

Frank: I’m not actually looking for “the one.” If I was, Tina would be a prime candidate, though her parents wouldn’t be in favour of us getting hitched. They want her to marry Roland Fast. He’s a jerk in my opinion.

Janet: Maybe she’d be better off with you, then, Mr. Gable lookalike 🙂 Tell us something you appreciate about where you live.

Frank: I like the freedom. I enjoy seeing the whole sky and the whole horizon, and being my own boss on this farm.

Janet: The newspapers talk about war with Germany. Would you join the fighting, or do you share your father’s Mennonite values? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand you’re not a man of faith.

Frank: Hitler has got to be stopped. I’d join the army if I got my call-up; I wouldn’t make excuses. On the other hand, I’m already helping the war effort by raising food to send to the Allies overseas. Whether I’m a man of faith or not… probably not. I don’t attend church much. Too many hypocrites. At the same time, I’ve got my principles. I know what’s right and I try to do it.

Janet: What’s your biggest challenge right now?

Frank: Doing a good job on this farm. I owe my dad that. And I owe it to myself.

Janet: What do you like to do to recharge?

Frank: I play my guitar. And I go fishing with my Norwegian bachelor friends.

Janet: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever done?

Frank: Let Dorrie Harms talk me into taking her to the Mennonite Church. As I said, I’m not really a churchgoer, but Dorrie’s a little blonde charmer. I relax more with her than with Tina.

Janet: Cake or Pie? Coffee or tea?

Frank: Lemon meringue pie with real coffee. Some Mennonites drink prips. It’s made of roasted barley and stuff, a poor substitute for coffee.

Janet: Is there anything you’d like to say to Elma, your writer?

Frank: Tell Elma she can’t control me. I’ll run my life my own way, though I appreciate her concern for my eternal soul.

Janet: Thanks for taking time to chat, Frank. I’m sure the farm doesn’t leave you with a lot of free time. Your life hasn’t been easy, and I don’t think that will change. But I believe you have what it takes to overcome the struggles. And maybe there are more people on your side than you realize. God might be, too, if you’d let Him.

===

Author Elma Schemenauer

Author Elma Schemenauer

Elma Schemenauer was born in a Saskatchewan community like the fictional municipality of Coyote. “As I grew up,” she says, “I sank deep roots into prairie life and the traditions of my extended Mennonite family.” After teaching for several years, Elma fulfilled a lifelong dream by moved into a publishing career in Toronto. She’s the author of many books including Yesterstories, Russia, Jacob Siemens Family Since 1685, Ottawa, and Hello Winnipeg. In 2006 she and her husband relocated to Kamloops, British Columbia. There she writes, blogs, and takes walks on grassy hillsides that remind her of her prairie roots.

Consider the Sunflowers, by Elma SchemenauerConsider the Sunflowers paints a colourful, often humorous picture of family life on the Canadian home front during World War II and beyond. As the story begins, it’s 1940 and Tina Janz doesn’t want to marry the man her pious Mennonite parents have chosen for her. He’s as boring as turnips compared with the dashing half-Gypsy Frank Warkentin. Obsessed with Frank, Tina leaves her job in Vancouver to marry him. However, her joy pales in the face of loneliness on Frank’s farm in the prairie community of Coyote, Saskatchewan.

When Frank shuns local Mennonites because some of them scorn his mixed parentage, Tina feels torn between her Mennonite heritage and her husband. Their son’s death drives the couple farther apart. Then Tina’s former Vancouver boyfriend shows up, setting off a series of events that send her and Frank stumbling toward a new understanding of love, loyalty, faith, and freedom.

Paperback 299 pages $19.95, ISBN 978-0-88887-575-4, available from the publisher, Borealis Press. Also available online at Chapters Indigo by about November 15. E-book coming in 2015. For more information, please visit elmams.wix.com/sflwrs.

SPECIFICATIONS
Paperback 5½” x 8½”, 306 pages
ISBN 978-0-88887-575-4, $19.95
Ebook ISBN 978-0-88887-576-1

ORDER FROM
Borealis Press
8 Mohawk Crescent, Nepean (Ottawa), Ontario, Canada, K2H 7G6
Telephone: (613) 829-0150
Facsimile: (613) 829-7783
Toll Free: (877) 696-2585
Web site: www.borealispress.com/
E-mail: drt@borealispress.com