Under this Unbroken Sky

Written by Shandi Mitchell
Review by Nanette Donohue

Lured by promises of prosperity and fertile land for farming, Theo Mykolayenko and his family immigrated to Canada to escape the political and social unrest and harsh conditions of Stalin’s regime. As the novel opens, he is returning from prison — he was imprisoned for ”stealing” grain from his harvest to feed his family. His experiences in prison haunt him throughout the novel, as he struggles to tame the land and care for his family. Both nature and civilization seem to be against the family’s success — they are faced with fires, wild animals, blizzards, and inhospitable locals, among other challenges. Theo’s greatest challenge, however, is his sister Anna, who owns the deed to the land Theo farms and whose husband, Stefan, wants a prosperous life without exerting any effort.

Mitchell’s unflinching debut chronicles the harsh conditions for immigrants to the prairie provinces during the 1930s. The region was still an unsettled frontier, and the challenges of ekeing out a living were overwhelming. Yet despite all the despair, there’s a light of hope that permeates this novel. Mitchell based the story on her own family’s experiences settling in the prairie provinces, and 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.