Tina Janz, her father, Obrom, and Roland Fast, the man Tina’s father wants her to marry, are caught in a Saskatchewan blizzard. My senses are so piqued as I jump into the first scene of the story that I shiver in the biting wind, the pelting snow, fearful of the disappearing fence posts that are supposed to lead these people to safety. An apt beginning to a book about troubled relationships and, ironically, hope.
Tina does not want to marry “rich, boring Roland Fast,” because she is in love with dark, handsome Frank Warkentin, a half-Mennonite, half-Gypsy much maligned in the Mennonite community of Dayspring, Municipality of Coyote, Saskatchewan in 1940. Tina’s parents only want the best for her, but she has a mind of her own. She’s sure that if she can marry Frank, he will fulfill her purpose in life.
Frank is attracted to Tina partly because she is proper, something he secretly aspires to be. Haunted by his mother’s desertion in childhood, he reacts with distrust and anger to the meanness of those around him. This burden proves a considerable obstacle to his happiness and the achievement of his inner goals, both in his own life and in his marriage.
Consider the Sunflowers involves many intricate relationships including love triangles, childhood abandonment, societal insecurities, spiritual hypocrisy, peer friendships, to highlight a few. Characters are realistic, portrayed with both strengths and weaknesses, acting/reacting in plausible ways. Settings mirror the dreary isolation Tina feels on the treeless prairie of southern Saskatchewan, yet also offer a hint of hope for something better ahead. The book is hard to put down, with tension-filled chapter endings and well-crafted flashbacks, as well as a tightly wound plot.
Elma Schemenauer, seasoned author and editor of more than seventy books, enriches this difficult story with figurative language apropos of the farming community of the 1940s: “Sunlight was spilling across the snowdrifts like broken egg yolks,” and “more wide awake than a pig the day before a sausagemaking festival.” The people of Dayspring still remember much of their homeland in Russia before immigrating to Canada, and “Hitler’s War” is constantly in the news. Consequently, the Mennonites are suspicious of outsiders and remain resistant to infiltration by “English” people.
Schemenauer has included an impressive, comprehensive Mennonite timeline at the end of the story as well as a study guide for readers. An excellent work worthy of recommendation.
Paperback 299 pages $19.95, ISBN 978-0-88887-575-4, AVAILABLE FROM THE PUBLISHER, Borealis Press http://tinyurl.com/lfdo9pf . Also available online at Chapters Indigo http://tinyurl.com/nsylp5j by about November 15. E-book coming in 2015. For more information, please visit http://elmams.wix.com/sflwrs