The Children of Mary

by Marusya Bociurkiw
205 pages,
ISBN: 0973670940

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First Novels
by Nancy Wigston

The Children of Mary by Marusya Bociurkiw (Inanna Publications & Education Inc., 205 pages, $19.95, paper, ISBN: 0973670940). In this multilayered tale, a Canadian-Ukrainian family struggles to survive a series of losses. Grandmother (Baba) Maria emigrated from the old country; in Winnipeg, her daughter Tatiana bore two daughters, Kat and Sonya. When Kat dies at eighteen, everyone is thrown out of kilter. The women are also rocked by the losses of husbands and fathers: a grandfather lured away by politics, a father who abandons his family.
Luckily, Sonya, the youngest, has a wicked way with words. Her descriptions of meals and visits¨especially a Christmas Eve that resembles a scene from a Marx Brothers' flick¨partly counteract the despair at the novel's heart. For the teenaged girl, a "summer stretched out like a long, boring Canadian Novel you had to read in school and never thought you'd see the end of"; on a later visit home, her obfuscating mother and grandmother resemble "two aging apparatchniks, working hard for the Politburo of memory."
Following her own path, Sonya fashions a life in Toronto's lesbian social scene; she later tracks down her vanished father. There is a lot at play here, from the history of Ukrainian immigration, to Prairie and sexual politics, to the allure of Catholicism, to family ties that chafe and bind. Maria, an herbal expert, rails against global warming while obsessively watching The Weather Channel. She links her son-in-law's sexual abuse with WWII, when 35,000 Ukrainian boys enlisted because they wanted "to fit in, be more Canadian"; and returned a "bit crazy."
For Sonya, buried rivers evoke the truths that connect and make sense of things. We glimpse her for the last time as she is tracing the paths of Toronto's old waterways, understanding that their force, like bones, like "bloody arteries", determines the way structures and land are shaped. It's all a matter of how deeply you look.

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