Under This Unbroken Sky (Paperback)
Harper Perennial, 9780061774034, 352pp.
Publication Date: August 24, 2010
September 2009 Indie Next List
— Helen Markus, HearthFire Books of Evergreen, Evergreen, CO
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The story of an immigrant family trying to build a life in an unforgiving new world, Under This Unbroken Sky is a mesmerizing and absorbing first novel of love and greed, pride and desperation. Award-winning writer Shandi Mitchell based this evocative and compelling narrative of struggle and survival on the Canadian prairie on her own family history.
About the Author
Shandi Mitchell is an award-winning Canadian filmmaker and screenwriter. She spent her childhood on a military base on the prairies and now makes her home in Nova Scotia with her husband, Alan, and their dog, Annie. Under This Unbroken Sky is her first novel.
Praise For Under This Unbroken Sky: A Novel…
— Steven Galloway, author of the The Cellist of Sarajevo
“Unforgettable. . . . Mitchell’s extraordinary rendering of human suffering is matched by her ability to give powerful imaginative shape to the will to survive, to care for others, and to forgive the most brutal of trespasses.”
— Janice Kulyk Keefer, author of The Ladies' Lending Library
“Remarkable. . . . Mitchell’s harrowing story delivers an unforgettable literary tribute to an immigrant people and their struggle. The lyrical style, the riveting historical material, and the treatment of prejudice make the novel a great book-club choice.”
— Booklist (starred review)
“[An] unflinching debut. . . . There’s a love for the land and the immigrant spirit throughout the book. This is one of the finest novels I have read this year—a lyrical, evocative tale of pioneer life from an immensely talented debut author.”
— Historical Novels Review
“Utterly gripping. Epic in scope, this tale of family feuds, violence and hardship follows the fortunes of Theo Mykolayenko, a Ukrainian survivor of Stalin’s labour camps who starts a new life in the harsh Canadian Prairies. . . . Beautifully pitched and unsentimental in execution. Brilliant.”
— Marie Claire (UK)
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- What is the meaning of the title Under This Unbroken Sky? What would you have called the book? Compare alternative titles.
- How does the introductory page preceding the first section, "Spring", foreshadow the events that unfold? The novel begins with a description of a photograph. Discuss how photos can tell stories about our lives. Can a photo reveal truth?
- The novel is divided into four sections, one for each season. Why do you think the author structured the story this way? How does each season affect the two families and the events that occur?
- What does land mean to Teodor? To his wife Maria? To his sister Anna? To his brother-in-law Stefan?
- What is the importance of animals in the story? Discuss the relationship of the coyotes to Anna, the rabbits to Myron, and the chickens, especially Happiness, to Lesya. Why do you think she chose the name Happiness?
- What were the factors that led these people to emigrate from their native land? What were their lives like before and after they emigrated? Was leaving their homeland ultimately beneficial? How might their experience compare to modern immigrants?
- Contrast Teodor and Stefan. What kind of man is each? What do they mean to their families? What about Maria and Anna? How do they compare to each other?
- Think about the children. Which resemble their parents? Why? Because of their family's poverty they have no toys. What do they do to amuse themselves? Would you agree that, even though they are poor, there is richness in their lives? Explain.
- What role does character play as events unfold? How are both the adults and the children weak? How are they strong? Are they proud or ashamed? Take the role of one of the characters—one of the children or one of the adults—and describe life from his or her viewpoint.
- To what extent did Teodor, Maria, Anna, and Stefan play a part in their own tragedies? In your opinion, how much life is beyond our control—whether in the hands of other people, God or the universe, nature, or even the economy? Can you draw any parallels to the problems facing our own society today?
- The novel is set on the Canadian prairies. How might their lives have been different if they had settled in the United States? Analyze the attitudes of native citizens—such as the police or the shopkeeper—then and now.
- What about your own background? Describe the immigrant experience as it applies to your personal history.
- Towards the end of the novel, when the police search the house for Teodor's contraband, they describe their impressions of the family and the house. How do their notions compare to how you imagined the cabin and the Mykolayenko family?
- What is the significance of religion in the immigrants' lives? What about Teodor? Explore his loss of faith. For those who have finished the story, how does this loss affect his actions at the end?
- Share your thoughts about the novel's origins and what the story means to the author. Were you surprised by what you learned?