08-04-2009 05:20 PM
Your observations and thoughts are very detailed as are Shandi Mitchell's writing
I love the lemonade analogy, and your last paragraph really has me thinking that the characters' lives might be in danger. All of them?
My first impression is that of a family that is very brave and strong. They were able to pick up and leave their native country with little more than the clothes on their backs. Then they resettle in a strange land and still manage to keep on going regardless of what life threw at them!
No matter the lemons, Maria finds a way to make lemonade, even if the process is bitter tasting. Anna, on the other hand, falls into a state of despair. She is not well equipped to fight the ravages inflicted upon her by her husband. When she fails in her attempt to fight him off, she suffers in silence instead of enlisting the help of her family. Her children seem to be raising themselves and without their aunt would live a life of total deprivation, especially after the rape scene takes place. Anna is devastated by the pregnancy that ensues. She is happiest when Stefan is out of the picture but he comes back like a bad dream.
I expected Theo to be the strong, silent type because otherwise he couldn't survive the seemingly unfair imprisonment and awful treatment he had to face. Life throws so many disappointments at him and yet he keeps on going.
Stefan is a selfish brute who is worthless and causes nothing but hardship and pain to those around him. He is one of those characters I hope is wholly made up from cloth and not based on any family history of the author's.
The family works together as one, in order to survive. Cooperation is evident in their successful efforts and sadly, even their unsuccessful ones. The hardships keep coming and the losses keep mounting but still, they don't give up.
The multitude of calamities that struck this family made me wonder how they could possibly keep on going. It is hard to keep rebuilding when you are constantly beaten down by adversity. I think, if humanly possible, Maria will manage. I don't know about Anna, and Teodor seems to quite possibly be at a breaking point. Some of the children, too, seem to be weakening in their resolve. Lesya, on the other hand, whom you might expect to be the weakest, appears to have the strongest resolve. I will have to read on to find out what happens, though. The opening page tells me that the hardships will worsen and if this story has any relationship to a true family secret, as the author intimated in her introduction, I hope that it comes out better than I fear.
Since Lesya, Petro, Anna, Stefan and the babies on their way, are not in the photograph, I fear for their lives from the foreshadowing of the opening page.
08-04-2009 05:28 PM
What a wonderful description of Ivan! I totally agree, although I did not picture him this way at first. Your post does him justice!
My favorite character in this story is Ivan. He is such a wise soul. He has such a high emotional IQ. His ability to empathize with the animals his family owns is so touching. Too, is his method of deducing his fathers' identity. I loved the way he pulled his father's face close to his own, looked deep into his eyes and then declared "It's him".
08-04-2009 05:39 PM
I like the way you likened Anna's existence to prison. Right now she is the character I am most drawn to.
I appreciated all of your insights- well put.
There was so much happening to and with Maria, Anna and the children from the very start that it it took a little reading to orient to their characters. I would say that because we find them thrown into a survival situation, they were all doing just that, surviving. Maria has the capacity it seems to care for, and hold the family together through unthinkable conditions while being without her husband. Anna, on the other hand is struggling so much with her own life circumstances that her children aren't even an afterthought. All the characters are very vivid and alive. I was drawn to the feeling that pervades the writing on behalf of each character. They are very alive in their circumstances and although they are family they are unique in their thoughts, desires and ability to handle their life. I like that Ivan and Petro are just being their age; playful, energetic, even in the worst of circumstances.
It is my sense that Anna became broken and disillusioned on the night of her honeymoon. She had high expectations for her marriage. I don't know if the five proposals were denied by her or her father, but she found out quickly that she mad a big mistake. Although Theo suffered in prison for a "broken law", Anna struggles in her own prison day in and day out with her husband and how he has broken her spirit. Each disappointment just feels like weight added to the last. She just begins to have some hope with Leysa when she suffers with continued marital difficulties and another pregnancy. Then we begin to see her coming alive at Summertime and let out a breathe of relief just to have her circumstances change again.
Theo's prison experience was well expressed and his arrival, although sooner than I had expected, was portrayed very well. I wanted to know more, wanted him to talk to his wife and children, but how could he until he had processed atleast a little of what he had just been through. Processed and began to recover both physically and mentally. I so enjoyed the way the Spring portrayed the hardness after winter, the new beginnings, and how by summer we see the literal warmth and closeness of the family as it begins to recover from all the loss. I thought the recipe for the Borscht was a great way to start the summer section. It felt like toward the end of the spring section and then into the summer we were just getting going. Our first exposure to Theo makes it hard to know his character, but had a sense of who he might be because of Maria's character.
I think what their lives are like and then consider myself and how I live. I am nowhere as strong as these characters. I know that we are all capable of more than we can imagine when put to the test but I am much softer because of my life circumstances. I have enjoyed how they all help each other from the youngest to the oldest, in the ways that they can. Except for Anna of course. I wonder would we view her any differently if she were ill? Is she ill and should she be looked at in those terms. I am curious how she will survive.
I hated the fire. I thought the writing was engrossing, very descriptive and real. But, I found it hard to see them lose anything after they were just barely coming back. They had already survived worse so I figured they would figure it out somehow, but because of my attachment to their lives I wanted life to be easy for them.
I am excited to continue on and see where this all leads.
08-04-2009 05:48 PM
08-04-2009 05:50 PM
I really enjoyed reading your references to your family...they are so true. We live in such a wasteful society that I really admire those individuals that find ways to be a little frugal from time to time. I teach with a man who had triplet boys before his first son was two (totally unexpected), and he never ceases to amaze me by how careful he is with his money. He packs his lunch every day, reuses his Ziplocks, and never fails to use the same paper plate for his sandwich for half of the year. Yet, he is always happy, and his family is a joy to be around.
I am thoroughly enjoying this book so far! It was hard to put it down at the end of this section to wait for the discussion to begin. I'm so excited that I can now move on and start reading the next section. I expected this to be a good book, but it is even better than expected. I have already checked to find out if there were any other books by this author and found that this was her first. If there are more in the future, I will definitely be reading them!
My first impressions of all of the family members were good, except for Anna's husband. I did not get a very good feeling about his character.
It does seem that my first impressions about the family members hold true, except for Anna. I was hoping that she would be stronger than the first impression that I had of her, but the more I read the more I am seeing the severity of her depression. Anna is on the verge of being psychotic at times. Anna's marriage has failed because her husband is not the type of man who she thought he was. He has raped Anna and each of her children is a reminder of this. On top of the fact that she was raped by her husband, their first child was born with a physical disability. While this was going on, her brother was in prison so she basically had nobody else to turn to.
I assume from what I read that Maria and her children ended up living there due to Theo's imprisonment. The book mentions that Anna and her husband had helped the family out when they were in need.
When Theo first arrived, I thought his children might not remember him (especially the younger ones.) I was not really sure what to expect from him, though. He did have a bit of a rough entrance back into his home, but this is understandable considering he had been wrongly imprisoned for a while and had not been around his family.
My own family was raised in the Southern U.S. and they did have some hardships back when my grandparents were growing up. I have heard stories from them about how hard times used to be for them. One of my great grandmothers used to think we were wasteful for throwing out used Ziploc bags. I can remember my shock when I observed her washing them out and putting them in the dish drain to re-use. She lived through the depression, so she did not waste anything. She saved spools, used plastic bags, and just about everything else that you can imagine because she didn't know when times might get hard for her again.
My dad's mother was widowed with 2 young children at an early age, so she also had to live through some really tough times. She worked in a sewing factory and could hardly feed her family on the small amount of money that she made.
The demands on this family include building a home large enough for the family to live in comfortably, planting crops, tending these crops, and picking and putting away the crops once they are ripe. I knew that children had to help their families in the fields during this time period. My own grandmother told me how she used to have to put my mom on a blanket under a tree so she could help her family pick cotton when she was young. (She had my mom at the age of 18.) Though I knew about these things, it was still a bit shocking to read about how hard these children had to work, especially the oldest boy.
I was surprised that this family had so many calamities in such a short period of time, but I think they will survive by sticking together. Some of the family's crops had already been put away (in jars?) so maybe some of this food survived in their home. They also have a little of their wheat to harvest and sell or to grind into flour for the family to eat. There is also the possiblity that Theo and the boys could hunt for wild animals to feed the family. The dad could find work outside of their home or the family could even sell the few possessions that they have to make ends meet.Message Edited by ladybug74 on 08-03-2009 10:25 PM
08-04-2009 05:59 PM
I am trying something new...I am going to post first then read everyone else's answers. Does anyone else do this? After I read everyone's posts I often feel I have nothing new to add, so maybe this way I will add something new or slightly different.
Initial impressions: Although Anna is suffering from depression, I believe she is still a strong person to live through everything that has been thrown at her and to live alone out in the country with only her sister in law and children. This would have been a very difficult time in history to be two women providing for all their children. I have hope that Anna will recover from the depression and demonstrate how strong she really is, but this can only be answered as we progress through the novel.
I think that Maria and her children were lucky to have family nearby to rely on when Theo went to jail. As much as they needed Anna, Anna needed them even more.
I was unsure if Theo would be harsh and angry at the world, or if he would be the type of man to move on and try to rebuild. I glad to see he turned out to be a strong, nonviolent man because Anna's husband has that more than covered.
The family survives because they depend on each other and work together, there is not one member that doesn't work hard. Impossible struggles can only be won with teamwork and hard work, I sure hope they make it!
I did the same thing this time- I posted and then went back and read what others had written and commented when I wanted to support or comment back to someone. I have found in reading people's posts that when people write their initial impressions, there may be some similarities but often there are some unique insights that help me think more about the story.
08-04-2009 06:03 PM
This family, at times, has barely any necessities--how do they make do?
This family makes do with only the barest of necessities. They manage by repairing what they have, recycling items for other uses, and most importantly....being grateful for each other and for what little they do have. The leather from Theo's shoes is used to repair halters and other leather items. Maria cans items from the garden and knits socks/mittens, etc to prepare for the winter, and Theo cuts wood. Each member of the family plays a part in running the farm and preparing for the times when things are scarce. Maria is also very careful in regard to rationing meat and other food items to be sure the family is fed.
Times like this make or break a family. In my family's case, it made the family stronger. The Great Depression affected my family severely and as a result, my great-grandparents and grandparents taught all of us to save and not to waste. There were times during the depression that they almost starved. My grandmother talks about eating bread with syrup for every meal, since there was a factory nearby and they were able to manage getting syrup but nothing else. Another grandmother told me stories about picking cotton in the Texas heat...she was only 7 years old when she was going to the fields with the rest of the family to work. The men also sat at job sites waiting to be called up for jobs in the oil fields...all they could do is hope they would be fortunate enough to be chosen on any particular day. Steady work was hard to come by. They did what they needed to do to help the family survive.
The effects of the depression are still seen throughout my family when it comes to taking care of what we have and making the best of what is available. Even though times were terribly hard on my grandparents, they speak fondly of those times because the family stuck together and found joy in the simple things. I'm grateful to them for teaching me the value of family and how important it is that we NOT become wasteful or take things for granted. These are values I have passed on to my own children and I hope they will do the same when the time comes.
My father also grew up in Texas and picked cotton when he was young (born in 1919). While growing up in the midwest, we went back to visit my grandparents in the home which was their original home of two rooms (kitchen, and living room/bedroom) with an outhouse and no running water for several years. Eventually they added on an additional room for sleeping and a bathroom.
My father also washed and reused aluminum foil, twist ties from bread and his primary storage containers were washed out cottage cheese and margarine containers and empty bread bags.
08-04-2009 06:04 PM - edited 08-04-2009 06:11 PM
I agree. We see how Maria does what has to be done to provide for her family as she becomes the sole parent, while Anna wallows in her stillborn dreams.
I can also see how the terror of 2 strange birthing experiences, compounded by a husband who turned out to be very different from her expectations impelled a need to escape. I'm not entirely sure what the wolf represents at this point...death/the wild? All of which, Maria did not have to endure. Giving birth is a life changing experience, and the process & outcome can change someone for better or for worse.
I agree , but add to that the difference between being in a marriage where you feel loved and supported, and a marriage where you feel like you are all alone.
On some level I actually find myself feeling sorry for Anna. (although that may very well change)
08-04-2009 06:31 PM
First of all I must say that this is one of the BEST First Look books we have read in a long time - if not the best overall. I hope that B/N plans on promoting it like they did with Deliverance Dane as it is of the same quality and has the same potential. I also see movie potential here - as it's so well written it's playing as a movie in my head.
I completely agree with you. This book is absolutely amazing and has the potential of being an immediate best seller!
08-04-2009 06:42 PM
Can you describe how Anna behaves and do you have any sense of why she seems so depressed? What kind of person is she, and what has happened to her?
Anna is a very interesting character. I don't find her likable, but she is a great contrast to Maria. Both are mothers and both have to survive some time without their husbands. That is about where the similarities end. Anna is sad, depressed and angry. Anna's character cares for herself more than other people, including her own children. She seems both mentally and physically incapable of connecting with them. I think all hope was dashed when she discovered her daughter had an abnormal leg and wasn't perfect. Anna wanted to crawl away when she delivered her son. She was harming herself when she discovered she was pregnant the third time. The self mutilation is anger at her lack of ability to protect herself from her husband.
When part of Anna's backstory is revealed, she is more impressed with the perception of Stefan instead of the reality. He symbolizes strength, authority and status, but she finds out the reality of his dishonor, meanness and brutality. I think the first scene in Canada when Anna encounters the coyote and Stefan shoots the animal, reflects the anguish in Anna's soul. She is in the vastness of a new land, feeling out her surroundings, but her spirit is crushed by her husband. She feels a belonging toward the howling coyotes. During the fire scene, Anna encounters another single coyote. The coyote has to decide whether to face the fire or jump into the unknown to save itself. This is almost the same thing when Anna is frozen in the field staring straight into the fire - unable to move.
I am interested to see if Anna's character will develop into a more likable person or if she will go deeper into herself.
08-04-2009 07:06 PM
I admire that family's strength. Though their hard situation, those children are vivacious and free, living the best way they can, creating a imaginary world and trying to sublime their hard conditions.
Maria and Anna are strong women, trying to fight their fears off and protect their children. Maria is impressive and totally concerned about the family's property and her children. I like that on her and admire her way of carrying the family on. Anna sounds an interesting character to me, because I feel like she will leave in a way everything behind. I think that she is anxious for some liberty and so she feels kinda ashamed of it.
And so we have Theo, trying to overcome past sufferings through the warmth of his family. He finds them living by their own luck and still they prove to have unity and respect for each other.
I've not still went further in the book, but I'm already very happy to read about this family.
08-04-2009 07:32 PM
08-04-2009 08:11 PM
Maria is strong - Anna is weak but is strengthening a bit with the return of her brother.
I love this passage on page 83:
"The ground has absorbed the early summer rains, the sun has dried the puddles, and the earth is warm and swollen. The clouds are towering puffs with white bottoms. The birch leaves have flipped, showing their silvery-green underbellies to the sky, promising a soft rain in the next few days. A slight breeze blows from the south. The full moon has passed and the new moon is rising."
08-04-2009 09:31 PM
My initial impression of Maria is that she is tenacious. Anna is definately depressed. The children are tenacious as well. My initial impression is that they all need each other and work together for the mere sake of survival. My impression holds true as the novel progresses. Maria and her children wind up with Anna after the Canadian government seizes Maria's and Teodors house, barn, lumber and the fields soon ready to be harvest. His payment not able to be reached under their terms. Three weeks till the harvest was ready. Before they were kicked off their land, Teodor took a wagon of seed. Something to start again. He was arrested for that. Anna signed an agreemnt for the parcels next to hers. Knowing that Teodor would need it for he would not be eligible after his release. She was looking out for her brother, and his family.
08-04-2009 09:48 PM
08-04-2009 09:58 PM
Anna seems sooo depressed. I"m inclined to think that she harbors so much resentment towards her husband, that she takes it out on the children and herself. She is obviously abused.
I was not surprised by the warmth the family had for Teodor. Teodor and his family has had some tryng times. I think he fits in perfectly.
The family makes do by ulitizing everything they have. They take nothing for granted. They never stop working hard for survival.
Spring they prepare the soil. Teodor builds a cabin for his family. They also prepare a garden for vegetables. Not a seed goes unpampered. Summer is spent harvesting. Some vegetables are sold for money to buy animals that will produce food to sustain them. The children play in the lake for leisure. Sunday's they go to pray. Maria is thankful, Teodor tired and angry.
After the fire and duststorm, I think the family will survive. They have more than what they started with. And thats not sayng much. I was not surprised by the calamities. They left me feeling like this family just can't get a break! And, sadly enough to say, that's life. Sometimes, it happens to us all.
08-04-2009 10:12 PM
I have just started reading the book so I haven't gotten very far. Tthough as poor and worn Marie may be, she has a strong spirit (which she doesn't give herself credit for). I believe family is the most important thing to Marie above anything else. With the strength of family, one can get through anything.
The children are very likeable. No matter how poor they may be, they sure do find things to do.
When I read more I will be able to comment more. So far, I am intrigued
08-04-2009 10:14 PM
My initial impressions of Maria are that she is an extremely strong woman who not only cares for her children but Anna's as well. Maria is the glue that holds the two families together through everything before the story begins. She is there for Anna and her children when Stefan disappears and continues to care for her own children while her husband, Theo is serving a prison sentence for a crime of trying to take care of his family in what was clearly a scam.
Anna is clearly a prisoner to Stefan who doesn't know what to do and is clearly depressed. Anna wants to escape with the coyotes and just run free and wild without any obligations. She clearly wanted a differnt marriage than what she received and different children which is clear in how she treats Lesya. Anna wanted a different life hence the depression. Having myself left an abusive marriage after 15 years, I can understand how the depression of being beaten down affects you and your children. Luckily I left while my children where infants (2 and 3 months old) so the affect wasn't as great on them as with Anna's children.
I was surprised by Theo's entrance but clearly he is a loving, caring father and husband. I love how he truly cares about his children and Maria.
The difficulty they have as a family draws them closer to each other and helps them get through the difficult times. without a family who truly cares about each other, you really have nothing in life as all the things that they did without showed us that they were still okay. This is just one of the things that I truly loved about Maria especially (how she was able to take care of everyone with very little).
Thanks for letting me be part of First Look UTUS!!
08-04-2009 10:17 PM
08-04-2009 10:19 PM
I always post before reading posts so that I get my thoughts down. Then I read the other points and add comments where I can. It is always interesting to read posts because no two are ever the same. Keep on posting, GadgetgirlKS!
I am trying something new...I am going to post first then read everyone else's answers. Does anyone else do this? After I read everyone's posts I often feel I have nothing new to add, so maybe this way I will add something new or slightly different.
"A book is like a garden carried in the pocket." Chinese Proverb
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