The Taste of Hunger

Written by Barbara Joan Scott
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In a chicken coop in Saskatchewan in 1926, Taras, a thirty-year-old hard-working immigrant from Ukraine, meets the farmer’s daughter, pretty fifteen-year-old Olena. While traveling to his homestead, Taras had stopped at the dilapidated farm for water and was asked to stay. Taras proposes to Olena. Even though she refuses his offer, the farmers force her to marry him. Olena had wanted to go to school and work in a city. She despises her harsh farm life with womanizer Taras yet decides to stay and raise a family. Their unhappy daughters have difficulty making friends at school and are teased for their accents. Their stormy marriage sets off a series of unfortunate events that have generational repercussions.

Scott has penned an interesting novel set in the Canadian Prairies that tells of the little-known lives of Ukrainian settlers eking out a living from the harsh land. Their ever-present hunger is suitably used in the novel’s title. Good use is made of folklore, for instance in the way Taras comes about his homestead. And additionally, the mythical Slavic witch type, Baba Yaga, is used as a character, although she doesn’t perform magic. The novel does admonish the Canadian government for luring Europeans to bushland when a character says, “What better to dangle in front of peasants than land, eh?” However, likely to stay apolitical, there’s only passing mention of the Indigenous Natives displaced from those lands.

The novel is well written, including the sex scenes. This a timely book, given that the Ukrainians are presently facing yet another crisis in their lives. This book was Quill and Quire’s Book of the Year in 2022. Readers will enjoy the novel and perhaps relate it to the renowned The Grapes of Wrath. Highly recommended.