Monday, January 16, 2012
A fascinating glimpse into life on the Canadian Prairies
Corinne Jeffery’s Understanding Ursula trilogy vividly recreates the pioneer world of the Canadian prairies with a multitude of memorable characters. You’ll lose yourself between the pages as you watch them struggle to survive and flourish, always at the mercy of Mother Nature and the ever-changing seasons on the unfettered plains.
On July 1, 1909, the day after his eighteenth birthday, Gustav Werner takes the inaugural ride on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway between Melville and Regina, to apply for a homestead grant at the Dominion Lands Office. He is eager to become the most thriving homesteader in the townships of Neudorf and Lemberg, Saskatchewan, set aside for Gustav’s people, the German Lutherans, by Sir Clifford Sifton in Canada’s “Last Best West” land deal. What he doesn’t realize is that beyond becoming a man and a landowner, life as he knows it is about to crumble from his grasp. Family drama and conflict plague Gustav as he learns English—the language that sparks hatred in his staunchly traditional father, Christian—and discovers that his parents have arranged his marriage to sixteen-year-old Amelia Schweitzer.
Arriving is the first of three novels recounting the trials and tribulations of German Lutheran immigrants to Canada in the early 1900’s. And what a pleasant treat this book turned out to be! Part memoir, part family saga, it follows one family as they struggle to make a living upon isolated farmland in the formidable Canadian prairies.
Author Corinne Jeffrey did a spectacular job with her research. Details of farm and town life in a sparsely populated region of Saskatchewan in the early years of the 20th century were beautifully portrayed. Most enchanting of all about this novel was that each character seemed real, full of faults as well as virtues. Their motivations, struggles, and yearnings as they clung to the old ways while trying to fit in within a new culture and society was very endearing. Betrayals, arranged marriages, secrets kept, language barriers, domestic hardships, and the help and support of good neighbours resound strongly throughout its pages.
As a Canadian author who has lived in Alberta all my life, I could strongly relate to the descriptions of warm and cold weather, landscapes, and small town life. Corinne Jeffrey delves deep into the psyche of each character, sharing insights and thoughts as they face their own unique struggles to find happiness.
The novel ends a bit abruptly, so it is obvious the author is hard at work preparing the second book in the series, which I now eagerly await. Well worth the read for a fantastic peek into the realities of life in early Canada.