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The Russlander [Paperback]

Sandra Birdsell
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 20 2002
Katherine (Katya) Vogt is now an old woman living in Winnipeg, but the story of how she and her family came to Canada begins in Russia in 1910, on a wealthy Mennonite estate. Here they lived in a world bounded by the prosperity of their landlords and by the poverty and disgruntlement of the Russian workers who toil on the estate. But in the wake of the First World War, the tensions engulfing the country begin to intrude on the community, leading to an unspeakable act of violence. In the aftermath of that violence, and in the difficult years that follow, Katya tries to come to terms with the terrible events that befell her and her family. In lucid, spellbinding prose, Birdsell vividly evokes time and place, and the unease that existed in a county on the brink of revolutionary change. The Russländer is a powerful and moving story of ordinary people who lived through extraordinary times.


From the Hardcover edition.

Frequently Bought Together

The Russlander + Mennonites Don't Dance + The Steppes Are the Colour of Sepia: A Mennonite Memoir
Price For All Three: CDN$ 44.48


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Product Description

From Amazon

One would think that a literary community as small as Canada's would only have room for one prominent Mennonite novelist. This title seemed to belong to Rudy Wiebe, so it is surprising--and gratifying--to find Sandra Birdsell laying equal claim. Unlike Wiebe's sweeping takes on Mennonite history, Birdsell uses a very intimate approach in The Russländer, focusing on a few years in the life of a single character. Nearly the entire novel is devoted to the youth of Katherine (Katya) Vogt, a Mennonite girl who grows up in Russia in the tumultuous days of the First World War and the Russian Revolution. Katya's father is the overseer on the farm of a prosperous tyrant, and her family occupies an uncomfortable space between the wealth and respectability of the Mennonite elite and the proletarian rage of the Russian peasants. The revolution brings new dangers to Katya's life, when their community is terrorized by a despotic band of anarchists. Eventually, the Vogts make it to Canada, and brief passages reveal an aged Katherine living in Winnipeg and passing her stories on to an earnest young man with a tape recorder.

Birdsell is a meticulous writer, and The Russländer is swamped in intriguing detail. Unfortunately, it only really gets going some 200 pages into the action, when the lives of the Vogts begin to crumble. Birdsell's portrayal of life under the terror of anarchy and political upheaval is riveting and vital, but only persistent readers will be able to enjoy these riches. --Jack Illingworth --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“It is a compassionate, well-developed family story of love, loyalty, faith, hate, loss and betrayal.…It is a story that could be told by any family displaced by war and revolution.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“With her formidable gifts for psychological observation and her uncanny details of daily life a century ago, Birdsell weaves a place as important as any in our literature. By showing how power is often foisted upon us from an outside world, The Russländer illuminates, with an artistic glow of the first rank, the intimate certainty that evil will not dominate kindness, truth, or love.”
–Jury Citation for the Giller Prize

“Entrancing.…Birdsell has outdone herself.…There is a temptation to quote The Russländer in full. It’s that good a novel.”
National Post

“Realistic, dramatic, dense.…The Russländer is profound.”
Quill & Quire (starred review)

“Masterful.…She weaves historical fact and domestic detail into a meticulous portrait of a tightly knit community driven to the brink of existence.…It’s impossible not to see Katya and her family in the faces of the fleeing refugees as world events once again sweep innocent people into a maelstrom.”
Ottawa Citizen


“Compelling.…We think not so much of the story as the process of memory and reflection, the ability of language to convey a remembered reality.”
Toronto Star

“Birdsell has reached deep for her story, and that of countless immigrants to a new land, and come up with treasure as precious as that silver, two-handled cup that serves as a totem throughout this novel about remembrance and redemption.”
Hamilton Spectator

“Superb.”
Edmonton Journal

“An important book.…It shows how easily we can destroy our world, but also that we have the ability to rebuild it.”
Globe and Mail

“I think it’s both beautiful and brave, and very, very moving.”
–Ann Jansen, CBC Radio

“[Birdsell] documents in chilling, unsentimental prose man’s unspeakable capacity for cruelty towards his fellow man.…As relevant as today’s headlines.”
Maclean’s


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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Requires concentrated focus June 18 2003
Format:Hardcover
Author Sandra Birdsell's tale reveals how an old woman now living in Canada recalls her dark past. Readers will revel in how Birdsell evokes a time and place that they rarely, if ever have even heard about: how a Mennonite community was devasted by the Russian Revolution.
Birdsell herself was born and raised in Manitoba, the 5th of 10 children and her family's origins trace back to Russia. Says Birdsell, "Twenty years ago, my great-uncle self-published his memoirs. In reading it, I realized what kind of a life my grandparents had before they came to Canada. I tried to write a short story - I wasn't wise or old enough. It's a book I had to grow into."
Birdsell began writing in '82 at the age of 40. The Russländer, her third novel, is a realistic, balanced portrayal of a group of people, written from the point of view of a religious sect, their beliefs and disbeliefs. It's not a Christian book, but the people are devout Christians.
This novel was written for a secular audience, but to state that The Russländer requires concentrated focus is an understatement. Fortunately, the effort will be rewarded. Birdsell writes with an uncanny knack for observation and detail.
In 2001, The Russländer won the Saskatchewan Book Award for Fiction, the Saskatchewan Book Award for Book of the Year, the Regina Book Award, and was a finalist for the Giller Prize.
In 2003, it deserves a second look.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a student of Canadian Literature I had never been exposed to the writings of Sandra Birdsell. As an instructor i will now offer The Russlander to my third year class. They are bound to be delighted.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Requires concentrated focus June 18 2003
By Donald D'Haene - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Author Sandra Birdsell's tale reveals how an old woman now living in Canada recalls her dark past. Readers will revel in how Birdsell evokes a time and place that they rarely, if ever have even heard about: how a Mennonite community was devasted by the Russian Revolution.
Birdsell herself was born and raised in Manitoba, the 5th of 10 children and her family's origins trace back to Russia. Says Birdsell, "Twenty years ago, my great-uncle self-published his memoirs. In reading it, I realized what kind of a life my grandparents had before they came to Canada. I tried to write a short story - I wasn't wise or old enough. It's a book I had to grow into."
Birdsell began writing in '82 at the age of 40. The Russländer, her third novel, is a realistic, balanced portrayal of a group of people, written from the point of view of a religious sect, their beliefs and disbeliefs. It's not a Christian book, but the people are devout Christians.
This novel was written for a secular audience, but to state that The Russländer requires concentrated focus is an understatement. Fortunately, the effort will be rewarded. Birdsell writes with an uncanny knack for observation and detail.
In 2001, The Russländer won the Saskatchewan Book Award for Fiction, the Saskatchewan Book Award for Book of the Year, the Regina Book Award, and was a finalist for the Giller Prize.
In 2003, it deserves a second look.
5.0 out of 5 stars A historical gem May 29 2013
By Hermine Robinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I enjoyed reading this novel about the life of a young Mennonite girl growing up through a tumultuous time in history. The characters and setting are vividly drawn, and this novel will appeal to anyone who appreciates historical fiction. Sandra Birdsell does an excellent job of weaving together, character, setting and plot.
5.0 out of 5 stars Russlander May 3 2013
By Heavenly Days - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A riveting novel of the persecution of Germans living in Russian during the 1800's and their escape to Canada.
Riveting discriptions of the German-Russian farms, the history of how Germans came to live in Russia, and their persecution after the revolution.
Good summer read if you like history of Russia and Ukraine.
To find our more about Germans from Russia go to Germans from Russia Historical Society (GRHS) web site, located in Bismarck ND.
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