Under This Unbroken Sky: A Novel

( 126 )

Overview

Spring 1938. After nearly two years in prison for the crime of stealing his own grain, Ukrainian immigrant Teodor Mykolayenko is a free man. While he was gone, his wife, Maria; their five children; and his sister, Anna, struggled to survive on the harsh northern Canadian prairie, but now Teodor—a man who has overcome drought, starvation, and Stalin's purges—is determined to make a better life for them. But the family's hopes and newfound happiness are short-lived when Anna's rogue husband, the arrogant and ...

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Overview

Spring 1938. After nearly two years in prison for the crime of stealing his own grain, Ukrainian immigrant Teodor Mykolayenko is a free man. While he was gone, his wife, Maria; their five children; and his sister, Anna, struggled to survive on the harsh northern Canadian prairie, but now Teodor—a man who has overcome drought, starvation, and Stalin's purges—is determined to make a better life for them. But the family's hopes and newfound happiness are short-lived when Anna's rogue husband, the arrogant and scheming Stefan, unexpectedly returns, stirring up rancor and discord that will end in violence and tragedy.

Shandi Mitchell has woven an unbearably suspenseful story, rich with fiery conflict, written in a language of luminous beauty and clarity.

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  • Under This Unbroken Sky
    Under This Unbroken Sky  

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
"Willow Creek, Alberta 1933" is scrawled in pencil on the back of a black-and-white photograph depicting a man, a woman, and five children looking serious and uncomfortable in their Sunday best. The photo was taken five years before the foreclosure on their farm, five years before anyone would die. Two others, who don't appear in the photograph, will be murdered. But on this day, when the camera's shutter clicks, the entire family looks up, takes a deep breath, and smiles.

\ \ Released from prison after a charge of stealing his own grain, Ukrainian immigrant Teodor Mykolayenko returns home. While he was away, his wife, their children, and his sister, Anna, struggled to survive in the harsh northern Canadian landscape. Teodor, who has endured injustice, war, and Stalin's purges, is determined to forge a new life for his family, and his land is rich in fertile soil. As he works tirelessly, his family's newfound happiness begins to erase his nightmarish memories. But when Anna's estranged husband returns, their new life is threatened once again.

\ \ The story of an immigrant family trying to gain a foothold in an unforgiving landscape, Mitchell's first novel captures life in all its savage beauty. A harrowing account of love, greed, and the morality that unites and divides us, Under This Unbroken Sky is a compelling and extraordinary portrait of human dignity and the will to survive in the face of almost unbearable adversity. \ (Holiday 2009 Selection)
Steven Galloway
“A magnificent novel. . . . A powerhouse of a debut that grips from start to finish.”
Janice Kulyk Keefer
“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.”
Historical Novels 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.”
Marie Claire (UK)
“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.”
Booklist (starred review)
“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
"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."
Publishers Weekly

An immigrant Ukrainian family suffers unrelenting hardship on the tundra of late 1930s western Canada in this grim frontier tale. Thrown in prison for two years for helping himself to some of his own grain after defaulting on a homesteading contract, Ukrainian immigrant Theo Mykolayenko must deal with his nearly destitute wife and children. His oldest son helps to plow and plant fields owned by Theo's sister, Anna, who is married to Stefan, a wayward and violent military man. Theo's long-suffering wife, Maria, is tireless in caring for her family, nurturing the garden that feeds them and mending every stitch of clothing they wear. Meanwhile, unhappy Anna, pregnant with a child she does not want, is beguiled by the howling coyotes that surround the homestead at night. The extended family survives fire, dust storms, cold and hunger, only to face a nastier enemy much closer to home. This ambitious novel, full of the minutiae of the savage existence of a frontier family, comprises a harsh picture of lives lived in an unforgiving landscape, though some readers may find themselves wishing for an occasional break from the grinding woe. (Sept.)

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Library Journal
Mitchell, an award-winning Canadian filmmaker, offers a deeply affecting account of immigrant struggles, reaching back into her own family history for the basis of her debut novel. After Theo and Maria Mykolayenko escape Stalin's purge in the Ukraine with their children, they start a new life on the sweeping plains of Canada in the 1930s. With the help of his sister Anna, who already has a homestead nearby, Theo acquires a homestead only to be beset by prairie fires, blizzards, and prowling coyotes. They work on against the odds to better their lives, but their good fortune is short-lived. Anna's good-for-nothing husband, Stefan, returns after a long absence. Stefan, the schemer, always with a deal in the works, orders Theo off his farm, then finds a loophole in Theo's homestead papers that creates legal troubles. Tragic in Shakespearean proportions, Mitchell's stark portrayal resembles Grapes of Wrath in its brutal description of immigrants' suffering and will to survive. This book will have immediate appeal to readers searching for superb historical fiction filled with tension, unforgettable characters, and a dramatic setting. VERDICT Enthusiastically recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/09.]—Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO
Kirkus Reviews
Canadian screenwriter Mitchell's fiction debut tells the grimly tragic story of Ukrainian immigrants who have left the steppes for the vast, unforgiving Canadian prairie. In the spring of 1938, Theo Mykolayenko returns to his family after 20 months in prison. He's been confined for his failure to pay an $11-dollar debt, and his governmental creditors also seized his house, his barn, his tools and, three weeks before harvest, his fields of ripening grain, worth $70. But Theo is a man of fierce will and work habits. Before his stint in jail, he had already survived all sorts of miseries and privations back home, then 23 days in filthy steerage and 3 years of struggle to establish his crop. He rejoins his wife Maria, their five young children (ages 5 to13) and his sister Anna, all of whom have strived mightily to subsist in his absence, and they start over. But just when hope and the possibility of happiness sprout again in this inhospitable climate, Anna's cruel and conniving husband Stefan returns. His machinations lead them inexorably back toward tragedy-worse this time because it's caused not by unscrupulous outsiders, lenders or government bureaucrats, but by kinfolk. Not much style or literary finesse, but the family's plight is affecting. Agent: Suzanne Brandreth/The Cooke Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061774034
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/24/2010
  • Pages: 343
  • Sales rank: 1,003,479
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Shandi Mitchell

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.

Biography

Shandi Mitchell is an award-winning Canadian filmmaker and screenwriter. Her short films have screened at numerous international festivals, and she is a recipient of a Canada Council for the Arts endowment. Mitchell spent her childhood on a military base on the prairies and now makes her home in Nova Scotia, on the east coast of Canada, with her husband, Alan, and their dog, Annie. Under This Unbroken Sky is her first novel.

Good To Know

  • "I cannot sing or play an instrument. My husband is a wonderful songwriter/ guitarist and assured me that he could teach me. Everyone has a musical voice. It just needs to be found. After 14 years and numerous attempts at voice (the dog whines and runs away), guitar (why are your fingers bent that way?), percussion (he took away the shaker egg), harmonica (he put in ear plugs), drumming- (1-2-3-4 can't you hear that?) -- he has finally admitted defeat."

  • "My Ukrainian blood is ashamed to admit that I can't grow a vegetable garden. I have planted one for the last ten years and harvest maybe three tomatoes and a dozen pea pods each season. I neglect to weed, water and feed. My idea of gardening is survival of the fittest. I have great, untamed perennial gardens that fight for their lives every year. The same theory applies to my houseplants. I experience great guilt if a plant succumbs. I can't rip it out, but I don't help it, either. That would prolong its suffering. I keep moving it from room to room, inching it closer to the door until it lands outside on the deck and my husband carries it to the compost bin. I do not watch."

  • "When I am writing, my subconscious continues to work while I sleep. I often dream about a scene that is still not quite right. It plays like a movie. I can stop it, start again, revise, and then re-play it. I often wake up with a key element revealed. Sometimes the real and dreamed blur. I have been known to wake up mad at my husband for an indiscretion committed only in the dream world. I have fought of assailants with martial arts moves (dangerous for my sleeping partner). I have died in my dreams and kept on dreaming."

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      1. Hometown:
        Wellington, Nova Scotia, Canada
      1. Date of Birth:
        February 6, 1964
      2. Place of Birth:
        Chatham, New Brunswick, Canada
      1. Education:
        B.A. in English, Dalhousie University, 1986

    Read an Excerpt

    There is a black-and-white photograph of a family: a man, woman, and five children. Scrawled on the back, in tight archaic script, are the words Willow Creek, Alberta, 1933. This will be their only photograph together. They are posed in front of a hand-hewn log granary. The adults are seated on wooden chairs, centered to frame. They are dressed in their church best. The man, his hair clipped short, wears a white, high-collared, pressed shirt, tightly knotted tie, a dark woolen suit, and broken-in work boots. He looks like a tall man. Large hands rest on his knees. His legs are crossed.The woman wears a dark, modest knee-length dress and low-heeled shoes with sturdy ankle straps. No stockings. On her lap is a baby, a white blur squirming to escape the woman's strong hold. He is round and fat, in stark contrast to the other thin forms. Three sisters ordered in ascending age are interspersed between their parents. On the far end stands the eldest boy. He is ramrod-straight. Chin up. Though they all wear summer clothes, they are standing in four inches of snow.They stare straight ahead, their eyes lost in shadows. Expressionless. Arms rigidly pressed against their sides. Holding their breath as the photographer counts: one hundred and one, one hundred and two, one hundred and three . . .Within three years, this farm will be foreclosed. Two years later, one will die. Two others, of whom there is no photograph, will be murdered.But this day, in the moment right after the shutter clicks shut, this family takes a deep breath and smiles.
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    Customer Reviews

    Average Rating 4.5
    ( 126 )
    Rating Distribution

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    (3)

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    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 126 Customer Reviews
    • Posted August 14, 2009

      more from this reviewer

      Passionate Portrayal of Immigrant Family Life

      Enduring solace or unending struggle? What does the "Unbroken Sky" have in mind for Teodor Mykolayenko? Can a man who survived Stalin's executions, the famine, and a Canadian jail term for stealing grain that once belonged to him, heal his own bruised pride and right the wrongs inflicted upon his family? Does life on the prairie soothe or inflame his sister Anna's battered soul? Those are some of the questions I ponder while reading an Advanced Reader's Copy of "Under This Unbroken Sky."

      The author, Shandi Mitchell, an accomplished filmmaker, addresses major natural disasters with the same clear vision and sharp intelligence as the minor details involved in milking a cow. Crisp sentences draw me into each character's imagination, sorrow, delight, and search for identity. I spend intimate moments with the children as they fend off disaster, play with each other, grow into their separate personalities, and eventually carry forward the seeds of hope and the shadows of desperation.

      With the sensitivity of the trained observer the author leads me through Teodor's struggle to regain the semblance of normalcy after two years in prison and warms my heart with the benevolence and strength of his wife Maria. The immediacy of Ms. Mitchell's writing transports me into Maria's kitchen, where love prevails. But it also forces me to look brutality in the eye when Anna's husband Stefan returns to the homestead.

      Nature, bursting with splendor and terrorizing powers, plays a major part in this majestic novel. Like a character on which the family depends, but has no control over, it strips away their security, yet rewards, at times, their tireless efforts toward harmonious coexistence. And I, a deliberate reader, who usually allows her pen to maim the edges of a page with exclamation points, and asterisks, and questions about intent, I refrain from intruding. I hold my breath. Hoping for generosity. Fearful of disaster.

      This is definitely not a sugarcoated fairy tale of man's triumph over untamed land nor is it a sob story about the shortcomings of human endurance. "Under This Unbroken Sky" is a well-crafted and passionately honest portrayal of one family's struggle to survive.

      3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted August 14, 2009

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      Dark, realistic read.

      I've read bleak depressing books before and this one is one of them. There are a few light hearted moments but not many. Living on a farm in the 30's was extremely hard and twice as difficult if you were immigrants. This book stresses the family dynamic and without the cooperation of everybody then nothing would work and everybody would starve. You have Teodor and Myron (father and son) who work the fields and do the majority of the heavy duty work. Maria (the mother) and her daughters help in the kitchen and prepare food, plant seeds into the soil, and help out what's needed around the farm. Throughout the pages you just read about them working so hard to overcome harsh winters, and hot summers. It's not the most easiest work in the world.

      So you have one family doing a lot of work, putting their blood, sweat, and tears into their beloved farm to make a living, and to survive. On the other side you have the other family. Anna, Petro, Lesya (might be Mischa in other versions of the novel from what I hear), and Stefan. They don't do much. Although Lesya seems to be the one carrying the family on her shoulders (and she's a young girl, younger than 16). Anna is busy wallowing in her self pity and depression. Her marriage to Stefan isn't so great as he leaves for several months and then comes back whenever he feels like it. Petro idolizes his father not knowing any better.

      There, you have two very different families. You read through their hardships and at first everything is all right. Then several catastrophes happen. It's almost as if it's an omen for things to come. Then Stefan arrives into the picture. Remember my hatred for Robert Dudley in The Virgin's Lover? Well Stefan is down there too. I can't stand this guy. He's arrogant, he's scum, he's got all the qualities I dislike. Thanks to him, everything just goes to nothing. I can't sympathize with Anna. Then again perhaps she has every right to be acting the way she is. Of all the characters I like Teodor and Maria the most. They were so supportive of each other and were very strong. I admired Maria the most because she went through great lengths to support her family and was the steady "rock" who was the glue of the family.

      Normally I don't read this kind of fiction but I decided why not. Give it a try. I don't regret it, however I was a little squeamish as there were parts of graphic deaths of animals and I just can't stomach those. There was a lot of description and normally I can't stand that but it was well done. It wasn't over the top description but enough to let you feel and literally smell the surroundings of the setting so you can actually feel like you're there with the characters. The plot was good and flowed nicely. The ending, well, let's just say it suits the book. Whether it could have been prevented or not, I'm not sure. Probably not. (You'll see what I mean if you read it)

      Don't pick this up if you're squeamish. However if you want something dramatic and realistic then read this. It's actually quite good. It's a serious read. It's dramatic, serious, dark, bleak yet beautiful. All at the same time.

      3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted August 26, 2009

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      I Also Recommend:

      Awesome- Offbeat Time Period

      This book explores 1938-1939 in the lives of two Ukranian families who have immigrated to Canada and are now trying to begin a new life under The Homestead Act. Besides feeling as if you are living in that era, you feel as if you meet all of the characters and live a short time in their lives. I can't help but love things about so many of them and want them to fight and struggle through some very tough times. Book clubs will enjoy themes of pride, jeaousy, sin and redemption, brokenness and rebirth, family ties and what can finally break them. This is not a light read, but it was a quick read because it was so interesting and I was drawn right into it.

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted August 25, 2009

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      I Also Recommend:

      Under This Unbroken Sky is a gripping tale of survival in a brave new world

      In her debut novel Shandi Mitchell gives us a beautiful and brutal look at man vs nature and man vs man. A realistic view of a Ukrainian family's immigration to Canada in the 1930s.
      Ms. Mitchell is a world class story teller and her words are a symphony, very fluid, very descriptive, making your heart race one moment and bringing you to tears the next. She knows her characters intimately and it shows by how three dimensional they are, how colorful, how real. They are each memorable in their own right and you form strong opinions of them right away. Her dialogue is vivid and clear and puts you right on the prairies and through the dust storms with these courageous people.
      Under This Unbroken Sky is a powerful story, it grips you from the first page and keeps you craving more. It enthralls you with the family's tragedies and triumphs.
      Shandi Mitchell has created a wonderful piece of literary fiction that will in no time become a beloved classic.

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted August 24, 2009

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      Dark and Depressing Read

      While this book is well written, I had a very tough time with it. As a reader, I was taken from disaster to disaster with little relief for the characters. The story is dark and gritty, and while I felt for the characters, I was also looking for more than just strands of hope. I honestly wanted to like this book. It still haunts my thoughts, still depresses me. Shandi Mitchell is a talented author - this just wasn't the book for me. I will, however, look for more of her work.
      If you like books that read like a documentary, this book is for you. If you like dark stories, this book is for you.

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted August 22, 2009

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      I Also Recommend:

      Unforgettable!

      It is easy for one to get lost in the pages of Under The Unbroken Sky by: Shandi Mitchell. Shandi's words flow across the pages and right into your heart. An immigrant journey into a harsh new country and climate brings us closer to our past and our own ancestors. The experience is a reminder of a life and time when hard work was crucial to survival, nothing was taken for granted, and the weather had the power to destroy life in a matter of minutes. You feel and experience the hardships, happiness, and emotions of each and every character as faith, hope, love, and loyalty are profoundly tested. These characters will live on in your heart and mind long after the last page has been savored. Theirs is a story that is not easily forgotten. Shandi Mitchell's first novel is a masterpiece!

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted August 11, 2009

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      Beautiful and heartbreaking

      I read this ARC, Under This Unbroken Sky, courtesy of Barnes and Noble First Look Book Club. This is by far the best one I have read.
      Under This Unbroken Sky is the debut novel of Shandi Mitchell. It takes place in 1938, in the Canadian prairies settled by many Ukrainian immigrants, who left the Ukraine during Stalin's reign of terror, searching for a new and better life.
      This novel is about Teodor and his wife Maria and their children, who have followed Teodor's sister, Anna and her husband, Stefan to Canada to farm homesteads set aside for immigrants. The story begins as Teodor is being released from almost two years in prison after being caught "stealing" his own grain. Teodor is not able to own land because of this and so Anna puts land in her name for Teodor to work it, until he can own it. Stefan has disappeared after raping Anna. But when he returns, Anna is hopeless against him and allows him to nearly destroy her family's life and threaten the welfare of her brother's. Maria is strong and will fight for the survival of her family.
      Mitchell's prose is poetic and exacting as she describes the details of this family and their hardships. From the tilling of the field, planting of the grain and the garden. "The family steps forward as one advancing line, scattering their offering in a silent, holy procession. The seeds catch the sun as they spin through the air, falling to life."
      While Mitchell's writing is beautiful and descriptive, it is also unrelenting as she tells details of revulsion without hesitation. A particular passage about the death of rabbits caught in snare traps, had me quickly skimming to it's conclusion.
      The reader gets to know of all of the book's characters, including every last child. Lesya, Anna's daughter with a disfigured leg, finds joy with a chick that has a similar deformity but fights for survival. Parts of the story are joyful and parts are heart-wrenching. This may be Mitchell's first novel, but she guides the readers' emotions like a seasoned writer.
      I strongly recommend this powerful and moving book.

      2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted August 8, 2009

      more from this reviewer

      You will not be able to put this one down

      Set in 1937 Canada, Under This Unbroken Sky tells the story of two families at odds. Ukrainian immigrant Teodor Mykolayenko, his wife, and their five children are struggling to farm the prairie land they hope to someday own. Due to Teodor's recent incarceration (because of him "stealing" his own grain), he is uneligible to own land in his own name. Agreeing to help him out, his partially unhinged sister Anna buys the homestead, with the arrangement that after he pays her back the land will be his. Anna has troubles of her own, with a good-for-nothing alcoholic husband (Stefan) who has, once again, abandoned her and her two children. The trouble really starts when Stefan returns home, prepared to reap the rewards of "his" land.

      When I first started this novel, I wasn't sure I would like it due to the writing style. It's written in the present tense, with short and sometimes simple sentences. To me, it almost read like a screen-play, and I found it jarring the first 50 pages. Once I got used to the style, however, this book completely sucked me in. By the end of the book, I appreciated the writer's style because it fits the tone of the story so well. This is an intense read; things start to spiral out of control for the characters and you can't help but really feel for them. This book will have you reading into the wee hours of the night to see what happens. I highly recommend it, and will be looking forward to the author's next book.

      2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted July 30, 2009

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      Powerful Family Drama

      UNDER THIS UNBROKEN SKY follows the struggles of a Ukrainian family living in Canada in the Spring of 1938. Teodor Mykolayenko has just been released from two years in prison for the crime of stealing his own grain. He returns home in the hope of rebuilding his family and their dream of a better life. What follows is a heartwrenching story of a family struggling to put itself back together in the face of terrible adversity.

      I could not put this book down. I was instantly drawn in by this family. After the first page, you know that tragedy will befall these individuals before the year is out. As the story progressed, I looked for clues as to the inevitable outcome of the story. The characters were so well-drawn and I found myself rooting for this family to succeed against all odds. The reader shares each and every heartbreak with the characters. I found myself angry and frustrated at the end of the book not because of the story itself but because of the injustice that life sometimes offers us.

      I think the author put it best when she said, "the story [is] about life, in all its beauty and savagery. It was about the moral lines that divide and join us. What is remembered and what is forgotten. And the fine line between those who break and those who don't."


      BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. This is a very powerful and moving book. The characters are all very well-developed and engaging. A truly wonderful debut novel.

      2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted September 3, 2009

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      Under this Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell

      Once I was into the story and invested in the characters I really enjoyed this novel, but it did take me quite a few pages to become hooked on the story. Shandi Mitchell does a wonderful job of creating the landscape of the late 1930's unsettled Candian land and the hardships faced by immigrants settling there. It gave me a great respect for people who were willing to travel so far to such harsh conditions to find a better life while also having to learn a new language and face prejudice from neighbors due to their differences. This would be a great book club read since there are so many areas to discuss and debate. The note from the author at the end makes the story even more personal. Overall a great read!

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted August 27, 2009

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      Well Written Book

      This book is so well written. The phrasing and the mood of a setting put you in the character's eyes.I spent time thinking about the book especially after the last part of the book. The characters will stay with you. I read the ARC of the book as part of the First Look book club at Barnes and Noble. I'm not sure I would have picked this book up otherwise. But what a find. I have enjoyed this book. The Fall section seemed to slow down for me, but brought anticipation that Winter was coming with all the hardships for families at the time.There was a lot of tragedy in the book, but that is true to the time and place they lived in. I think the author gave a good account of the struggle at that time. The author joined us online on the Barnes and Noble board. What a gracious person, responding to comments on what we liked/disliked, our interpretations, etc. I think Shandi Mitchell would be a great person to meet at a signing and hear more of her insight into this book.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted August 26, 2009

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      Shandi Mitchell takes the germ of a story about her ancestors, plants it and grows an entire wheat field in the northern Canadian prairie. "Under This Unbroken Sky" is a tender love story, a tragic family story and a lesson in contrasts all in one.

      The Plot: Two Ukrainian families are enticed by the Canadian government to leave the political turmoil behind and come homestead in the late 1930's. They begin the back breaking task of clearing and planting. Teodor unfortunately misses a crucial (though arbitrarily set) payment deadline and his land and crops are summarily seized without any compassion by the local authorities. When he attempts to reclaim his property he is thrown into prison for nearly two years. While he is gone, his wife and children survive by sleeping in Teodor's sister's shed and helping on their land. He returns home where he and his family throw themselves into the labor of starting over on another homestead tract his sister bought for him since he cannot because he has been in convicted of a crime. The next year is spent toiling not only for themselves, but also for Anna and her children since her husband has abandoned them now that Anna is ugly with pregnancy. They continue to battle Mother Nature during this time while an undercurrent of ill will sweeps over them when Anna's good for nothing husband returns and seeks to claim their land and evict them.


      The Characters: The characters are what really drive this story and while the adults figure prominently, the study in contrasts begins with the children. Teodor and Maria's five children seem quite well-adjusted considering all that they have been through. They each have a distinct personality and are a joy to watch. Anna and Stefan's children are not so lucky. Stefan is very abusive in various ways to each member of his family. His daughter, Lesya has a crippled foot which Stefan blames on Anna. Both Anna and Lesya cringe under his abuse and his young son Petro seeing this, understands that abuse can be powerful so he abuses everyone and everything that comes in his path as he seeks to follow in his father's footsteps.


      The Setting: "Under This Unbroken Sky" is set in the northern prairies of Canada where Mother Nature is a cruel mistress. The winter is long with the farmers having little ability to grow anything to help them through this time. They are often cut off from the town by the snows. The spring is short and the summer flies by with warm days that can make or break the harvest. Autumn is filled with hard work bringing in crops, preparing for the next year and trying to make a pittance from the sale of crops to a mill with little tolerance for the immigrants and their lack of speaking in English.


      What I Liked: I felt a great compassion for these hardworking people and their plight: not fitting in with their Canadian neighbors at school, church or in the market. People often tried to take advantage of them and it seemed that they had to work twice as hard to get half as much.


      What I Didn't Like: I was often furious with Stefan with his meanness as well as Anna who has stepped out of reality and let others do for her. She has lost her ability to dream and is overwhelmed by everyday circumstances. She neglects her children in ways that are as tragic as her husband's abuse.


      Final Recommendation: "Under This Unbroken Sky" is a brilliant story with a tragic ending. Even as I approached the precipice, I couldn't stop reading. Mitchell gives insight into the history, the family dynamics and the inner workings (slow though they may be) of the government in ways that made me both love and deplore all that grew from her germ of an idea.

      1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted August 26, 2009

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      Emotional Story That Stays With You

      What I liked about this book is that it can be read on many different levels. The story is suspenseful and the book can be read just for that. However, there is so much more to this book. The writing style is simple, yet requires the reader to think for herself and piece together bits of information learned from various characters to truly understand what happened. There is lots of imagery and symbolism in the book, which can be noted and contemplated. The reader can learn about a time and place from a historical perspective. Lastly, the reader can become emotionally involved with the characters, who are unique and memorable.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted August 25, 2009

      I Also Recommend:

      UNDER THIS UNBROKEN SKY -- AN UNBELIEVABLE READ

      Shandi Mitchell has written an extraordinary first novel that will have you hooked from the very beginning. She tells the story of a family in the 1930's living under Stalin's ruling in the Ukraine until they are driven out.

      The story begins with them taking a family picture, dressed in their church best-summer clothes-in 4 inches of snow. She says that before the story has ended, one person in the photograph will be dead as well as two others not in the photograph. They are lured to the Northern Canadian Prairies by being told they have the healthiest climate in the world and farms for everyone; that it is a vast land that goes on as far as the eye can see. But it is a different story once they get there. Teodor has just returned from prison for stealing his own wheat. Maria, his wife, has been running the farm, along with and taking care of their five children and also taking care of her husband's sister and her two children as well. It is the story of how Teodor acclimates himself back into civilian life, to his family and farming and the obstacles they constantly encounter...fire, dust storms, inadequate food supply, an extremely frigid winter and the return of his scoundrel of a brother-in-law...that tests all their wits. The requirements set by the Land Office are very strict and Teodor runs the risk of losing everything.

      Ms. Mitchell has written a beautiful novel which deals with the hardships of settling in a new country and the problems with family members and those you can't trust. Her writing grips you from the very beginning and then only partially releases you after the story is finished. You will feel part of both the family and the land and suffer with them through all their tragedies. The characters will take over your soul and you will cry with them. It is a sad story for what they had to encounter but Ms. Mitchell gives each of the characters a drive and determination to succeed so it is also the story of hope and faith and knowing that in order to succeed one must work hard. Ms. Mitchell has put her heart and soul into the story. Under This Unbroken Sky is only the beginning. Ms. Mitchell has to continue their story so we can continue to be part of their lives.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted August 24, 2009

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      Heartbreaking and honest

      Set in 1938 rural Alberta, Canada, the novel examines one year in the life of a Ukranian immigrant family struggling to make a home for themselves, breaking the land to suit their will. There are moments of levity, happiness, and joy but also madness and tragedy.

      The novel is overshadowed by an opening preface, one that describes a photograph dated 1933 (there wasn't an actual photograph my ARC so I'm not sure whether there will be a photograph in the actual book); as readers, we are told that within five years of this photograph this farm will not exist and three members of this family will die. Mitchell's novel describes the road to tragedy beginning with the day Teodor returns to his family after serving two years in prison for theft, the "theft" being the crime of keeping one wagonload of grain for himself instead of letting the entire crop be repossessed and his family starve. Teodor's wife Maria has kept their five children alive, staying in a shack on her sister-in-law's property. Anna has trouble of her own in the form of her drunken, egomaniacal husband, Stefan; Anna's psyche is close to breaking.

      Reading Mitchell's novel is a little like reading My Antonia on the other side of the mirror, a The Long Winter that reveals the devastating truth of prairie life. We are not looking in on the Shimerdas, we are behind the scenes with them, building houses, negotiating sale prices (with poor English), rationing food to last the winter, saving crops from natural disasters. We are not warmed by Pa's fiddle but listen to Maria's stories from their homeland now torn by Stalinist directives. It is easy to forget the setting is only 80 years in the past because there is no electricity, all the farmwork is done by hand.

      The novel highlights the difficulties of the immigrant. The locals take advantage of the immigrants' naivete and poor English skills. Come to our country! You can own land if you work hard! What they really mean is that once you have the land broken some loop-hole will appear allowing your homesteading claim to be revoked. The grocer will try to cheat you when buying the vegetables you have slaved over. It's an odd form of indentured servitude. I felt a twinge of relief or guilt that the book was set in Canada, like the sins of the US during the western expansion are not ours alone in the history of the Western hemisphere.

      With so many characters in close quarters with one another Mitchell really should be proud of her ability to give each of her characters a unique voice. Maria quickly became my favorite character. She is practical and endlessly resourceful, the ideal character for a novel centered on the hard life of a settler. The knowledge of cooking, farming, home-remedies, sewing, etc. packed into her head could fill several instruction books. She is an admirable character and a stark contrast to her sister-in-law, Anna, who is nearly incapacitated through self-loathing and hatred for her husband.

      I would love to see how Teodor and Maria's children turn out, if Sofia succeeds in shedding her Ukranian roots, Myron becomes the land-owning farmer his father intended, or if Dania creates as solid a home as Maria had, but Under This Unbroken Sky is a book that shouldn't have a sequel.

      1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted August 23, 2009

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      WOW! Gritty and realistic.

      Wow - how do you hold your breath for 343 pages? This book will push your emotions to the limit. The characters become a part of you. I haven't left them behind yet and I finished reading the book over 2 weeks ago! The beautiful imagery will hook you right into the story. You'll find yourself rooting for certain family members and being enraged with others. The ending will leave you feeling stunned yet not ready to let go. An excellent read but definitely not for those who like their endings tied up in a pretty bow.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted August 23, 2009

      Wondeful Read

      Have more than one copy of this book, you will want to lend it to friends and reread it again, yourself.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted August 23, 2009

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      Unbroken spirit to survive

      They say that a picture speaks a thousand words but what do you see when the description is presented first? Shandi Mitchell's first novel, Under This Unbroken Sky, tackles this question head on. The novel starts with the description of a 1933, black-and-white photograph of a family. Although there are specifics listed (how each member of the family looks), the reader is free to draw his/her own conclusions about what type of life they have and what brought them to this time/place. Additionally, there is some foreshadowing that states what will become of them. Specifically, that one amongst them will die and two others (not seen) will be murdered. This alone will hook most readers and compel them to take an adventure Under This Unbroken Sky.
      -----
      The story centers around an immigrant Ukrainian family and chronicles their struggles to survive the harsh Canadian prairie. The land and weather are not the only obstacles that must be faced. At the start of the novel, Teodor Mykolayenko has just finished serving a two year prison sentence and is determined to build a better life for his family. Teo not only supports his family but also supports his sister and her children. He clears his land, builds a house and plants his crops. Just when things start to look hopeful, tragedy - in the form of mother nature - strikes. They are confronted with fire, dust storms and snow. And, each time they survive; however, the real battles occur when Teo's brother-in-law, Stefan, returns. Saying anymore would be giving too much away.
      -----
      The story was nicely paced and the descriptions were well done. You could clearly picture the environment and feel as though you were witnessing the events first hand. You will come to care for most of the characters and not want to see any of them die. Could you predict who dies? One death may be foreseeable but, for this reader, not the others. This is not a happy go lucky story. It is one of survival. We witness both the broken and the unbroken spirit of a human being trying to survive against all odds - physical and emotional.
      -----
      I recommend to those interested in discovering a new voice.

      1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted August 22, 2009

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      Review from Many A Quaint & Curious Volume site

      Sorry, I can't get this review to paragraph format! The correct formatted version, along with novel support links, can be viewed on http://manyaquaintandcuriousvolume.blogspot.com


      Perhaps Shandi Mitchell best sums up the premise of her debut novel, Under This Unbroken Sky. In an interview she says it's about, "two families consumed by the land that they yearned to possess." Consumed is an understatement.


      In 1938, Ukrainian immigrant Teodor Mykolayenko returns to the wife and five children he left behind when he was sent to prison. His sister has housed the family, though she has her own struggles with a nasty-piece-of-work husband and two children of her own. Teodor has survived far worse trials than managing the harsh Canadian prairie, he's a former Stalin labor camp survivor, but it will be a mixture of that harsh landscape, misunderstandings and injustices that will break him.


      Told through multiple viewpoints and intermixed with fine literary touches, like sections marked by the changing seasons of the land and a recipe for borsch equating happiness with food abundance, Under This Unbroken Sky builds with a constant tension that keeps readers waiting for the gut punch, knowing it's coming. The novel is epic in scale. It covers the range of human emotions as disputes, brutality and hardships are tempered with love, kindness and abundances. The plot will leave readers both flattened and uplifted. The characters, especially through the use of their own viewpoint, are well formed. And Ms. Mitchell rightly notes in her interview that, "the landscape... is a living, breathing character. It's the silent witness in the novel."


      Still, Mitchell's interview won't tell you that Under This Unbroken Sky is a captivating, atmospheric, un-put-down-able novel that will leave you thinking about it long after the last page.

      1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted August 20, 2009

      A powerful story told beautifully

      Under This Unbroken Sky is a compelling, classic tragedy in which the outcome is revealed in the first page of the novel, leaving the reader to race through to the conclusion to complete the story. Shandi Mitchell, a filmmaker, has done a courageous job of sharing the lives of two families, each bent on a path of inevitable destruction. Her ability to create word pictures carries the reader instantly into the world of these adults and children in 1938 Alberta, Canada.

      Two families are linked by siblings -- Teodor, a man returned from prison who works to build a new life for his family and regain ownership of his land, and Anna, the mother of the second family, married to a wastrel. We are allowed to see into the mind of each character, whether adult or child, and observe their view of the world as it is changed or confirmed by the hand of nature or the actions of others. The beauty of the writing is equal to the stark beauty of the landscape described. As in all great tragedies, pride is the key to all that comes later, with greed, envy and passion taking a second place.

      Shandi Mitchell has an unerring sense of how best to describe key scenes to make the reader feel fear, pain, heat, cold, madness, and ultimately the beauty, bounty and unforgiving timelessness of nature.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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