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dhaupt
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Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer

I ditto Paul's take on the Religion part. 
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Lil_Irish_Lass
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Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer

[ Edited ]

Claire-Wachtel wrote:

Hello, everyone,

 

 

I'd like to introduce myself as Shandi Mitchell's U.S. editor. Over the past year, I have collabroated with Shandi's Canadian and British editors to bring this marvelous book into your hands and to make this international publication as successful as possible.

 

 

Though I have worked in publishing for 28 years, seldom have I come across a debut novel so beautiful and haunting. A little back story. I first read this novel just over a year ago. It came to me as a double-spaced Word document, looking nothing like the book pages you are now holding. I remember reading Shandi's early manuscript on my lap, on the train (with nothing but a rubber band to hold it all together!), when I first came to the harrowing fire scene. I distinctly recall this moment in the book because I missed my train stop entirely. And that's when I realized how enthralled I was with Shandi's writing - - how completely immersed I had become in the world that she had so powerfully created. Of course, I then caught the next train headed in the opposite direction and rushed home to read onward. When I later showed the manuscript to Harper's publisher, Jonathan Burnham, he agreed that it was one of the best novels he had read all year. And the rest is history.

 

 

I couldn't agree more with JeniferKAllison when she writes:


When the fire comes, we feel the heat, we feel the fear, we want to beat the fire down along with Theo and the children and we cry when Theo send them away and stays behind to continue fighting.  The fear that Theo is lost in the fire is palpable, and we wait with baited breath to learn how much grain we have lost. 

 

I say we because by now the Reader is fully vested in this story, so much so that it feels like our own.  


That was the exact moment, too, that I felt fully vested in this story. Lucky for me, I was in a position to share this moment with thousands upon thousands of other readers who might see the same beauty, feel the same heat, and ultimately make the same investment in Shandi's story that I did.

 

 

I've been reading your thoughtful comments for several days, and, having gotten a better feel for your interests and concerns, I'm happy to join the discussion. Let me begin by asking a couple of questions that are always on my mind as an editor: Are the characters believable to you? Do they transport you to a time and place?

 

 

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!


 

Welcome Claire!


Ask any of my friends and they'll roll their eyes and say I'm a literary snob. For the most part I read books written in or in the style of, Victorian Era British literature. I rarely touch "Americana" type literature with a 10 foot pole.

When I read the description of UTUB my first thought was "so not my type of book, I'll hate it", but I enjoy the First Look process and so I signed up anyway. After the first 50 pages I became completely captivated by the story and the characters and am having a lot of trouble putting the book down to go back to work after my lunch break is over.

 

The characters are very real in and of themselves but I also think that Mitchell's writing style brings them even more to life... almost adding a 3-D quality to them allowing them to jump off of the page and run rampant in my imagination of their own will.

I can admit when I'm wrong and I'll say it now - judging this book by it's cover was an error on my part and Mitchell has pleasantly surprised me with a true gem.

Message Edited by Lil_Irish_Lass on 08-07-2009 12:26 PM
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"No sensible man ever engages, unprepared, in a fencing match of words with a woman." - The Woman in White
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Anna_Louise
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Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer

Welcome Claire!

 

Glad to have you as part of our group.  This is my first First Look B&N and am thoroughly enjoying being a part of this wonderful book by Shandi.

 

Shandi's characters have drawn me into their lives so deeply that I feel as though I am a part of the family.  I picture them and share their thoughts and emotions and am completely immersed into the lives.  They are completely and utterly real to me.

 

Shandi has done an excellent job with her "baby" and I look forward to many more "babies" from the both of you.  Great job!:smileywink:

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Sunltcloud
Posts: 933
Registered: ‎10-19-2006

Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer

1. Katya is six years old. She lives in an immigrant household where neither parent speaks much English. She has a vivid fantasy.

 

2. We sometimes pay little attention to the way our children pick up language. We might say things to each other that a small child only understands partially or not at all. When my daughter was five I started to work, because my husband was temporarily laid off and we needed the money.

To avoid too much upheaval in the family I worked nights; went to work after the children were in bed. We must have discussed it as working "graveyard" because my daughter told me, when she was in her teens, that she used to be scared for me. She thought I worked in a graveyard.

 

3. The part Katya's imagination plays is critical to her character, important to the overall diversity of the family members, sad in its content, and still brings a smile to my face, because I see the intensity of her love for the family and her need to help smooth their lives.

 

4. If a book were altered because parts of it don't follow the principles of one group or another, much of my childhood reading would have had to be altered. Oops! I forgot. It was. It was no longer printed.  Some was destroyed. My grandparents and my mother had to bring our extensive library to the market place and they watched it go up in flames.    

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Sunltcloud
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Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer

I ditto the ditto.

G.


dhaupt wrote:
I ditto Paul's take on the Religion part. 


 

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literature
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Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer

readslots4 wrote:

"I was reading other posts and realizing that I didn't say anything about Lesya.  Her character is one that you can really connect to when it comes to perseverence.

 

The biggest thing that comes to my mind with Lesya is all the possibilities for her.  She is so intriguing that you just imagine all the things that she might become."


 

I have to agree with you about Lesya.  She doesn't consider her foot a handicap, she has accepted it and learned to live with it.  With the right guidance, she can grow up to be such a beautiful, loving person.  She already possess the maternal instinct and that is apparent when she meets the hen and names her Happiness.  More discussion about this later on.

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lizard2000
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Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer

What are your initial impressions of Maria, Anna, and the children? Do your first impressions of these characters hold true as the novel progresses?

My first impression of Maria is of my grandmother who worked a farm in rural Minnesota.  In my head I am picturing the couple from the movie "Sweet Land", not because their relationship is similar, but because the basis of working a farm is similar. 

Anna intrigues me.  I think she is a tough woman given when her husband and life have put in her was as obstacles, but I am curious to see where she ends up.

The children remind me of me and my cousins growing up.  Always playing, always trying to impress our parents.  We had the freedom to run around without fences and the worry that someone was going to pick us up and carry us off never to see our parents again.

How did Maria and her children wind up here? 

 My understanding if that after Theo was arrested they ended up living in the storage area next to Anna's house.

 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?

To me Anna seems to be a shell of her former self due to the abuse of her husband.  She sees everything as empty and truly despises anything that reminds her of her husband and unfortunately it seems that her children somewhat fall into that category.  I do believe she is a strong woman, but she doesn't really know how to end the cycle of abuse that she is in without thinking about death.

After Theo's exhausted, hardened entrance--were you surprised at the warmth that this family obviously had for each other? Was Theo the sort of person you were expecting?

Theo reminds me of Jean val Jean (sp?)from Les Miserables.  He is strong and won't take no for an answer and was willing to risk his life for his family in order to keep them alive by stealing his own grain.  I am not surprised by the reactions of any of the family at his return.  I think Myron felt like he had his toes stepped on given he had been the man of the family for the last couple of years and was comfortable in the position.  He wanted to make his father proud, but also wanted the acknowledgement that he could do without his father's help. 

What demands do these two seasons make on this family? What do they do in Spring and in Summer?

The demands that most people in our culture no longer understand:  having to plant what you expect to eat and sell and hoping that it does not get ruined.  If you have a bad crop, you can't just go to the local grocery store or Target and pick up dinner for your family.  You go hungry.  

You plant as a family and you work the field as a family.  Everyone has a role to play and you do it together knowing that in the end you all benefit together.

At the end of the Summer chapter, the family has lost much of its crops and property to a fire, and then is hit by a dust storm! How do you think the family is going to survive through the coming chapters? Were you surprised by these early calamities?

I was not surprised by the calamities since all farms have to worry about things such as fires, dust storms, drought, etc.  I loved how the whole family worked together (except crazy Anna...) to make sure that the fire did not spoil their food and pride.  

I'm liking this book a lot because my grandparents were farmers in rural Minnesota and it is really helping me to understand and get a glimpse into their lives before modern technology for farming became available.  I also love the family aspect of the book - that they are one unit working together towards a common goal.  I feel we've lost some of that in our culture today.

 

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DiniB
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Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer


maude40 wrote:
Anna is the most interesting character to me. On page 91 in the paragraph where she is laying in the field and opens her body to the sun, it seems she is letting her pregnant body be free of the tight corset she wears to deny the baby. Is she accepting the pregnancy? Why does she put fistfuls of dirt into her mouth?  Yvonne

 

I read it as she was trying everything to get rid of the baby.  I don't know the page, but it mentioned her blistered skin under her corset.
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Rabid_Reader
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Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer

My initial reaction to Maria and Anna is that they are exact opposites. Maria comes across as a selfless caring mother willing to do without so that her children have the necessities. Anna on the other hand seems to be selfish and puts her needs before those of her children. I feel bad for Anna, because of what happened between her and her husband, but I also feel like although she deserves the right to grieve for herself she should also put more thought into the well being of her children especially since she has another little one on the way.

 

Rabid_Reader

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dhaupt
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Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer

Hi Claire and thank you for giving us this opportunity.

To answer your first question - yes the characters are very believable, they feel very 3 dimensional to me.

And the second - They do transport me to a different place and time, by speaking to us through the different characters I get more of a feel from all of them combined and I really like the way Shandi uses that technique.  

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bookloverKG
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Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer

This is my first First Look BnN too but I am thoroughly enjoying it all. I have finished spring and soon I will be finishing Summer.

 

This book is absolutely amazing. When I first started reading this, I knew Maria was such a lovely lady inside and out. She is trying to help her family and she cares for everyone. With Anna, I thought she was broken. The children I loved too when I first read about them. They were ordinary children working hard on their farm. But as the novel progresses, they are given more character. Myra is a young man who is in the process of becoming a man. The girls are all different and Anna's daughter is special for many reasons. She is crippled but she can do what everyone else can. Her mother treats her like she can't do anything. She also has seen things other adults shouldn't see. Ivor and Petro are my favorite characters because they are adorable and they see things in a different way then everyone else. They love where they live and they know what is happening in a child's point of view. They do not take it as seriously as the adults mainly because they are still young and are being protected from everything. Maria and her family are living with Anna because Teodor went to jail and they had nowhere else to go.

 

Anna is broken. Her husband did it to her the night of their wedding day. Since then, he has abused her and now she would like nothing more then to see him dead. She has threatened him a few times with a knife. Anna is likened to the coyotes because they are wild and free and Anna would love to be free from her worries and everything, even the child in her stomach which reminds her of him everyday.

 

Teodor was mostly what I expected. He still loves his family and his family still loves him. I was not surprised by the warmth but from the initial impressions they had when he came home. The family did not go hug him right off. They were a little standoffish.

They made do with what they had. They worked hard and lived off anything they could find. The children did not know that. Maria did everything within her power to keep her family alive.

 

In spring, they had to plant and take care of spring things. They get accustomed to the new way of living with Teodor and they have more they they have had for a long time. In summer, well i have not finished it yet but so far they are enjoying the excess of food and the great weather. Teodor is trying to be the man again and so he is building a home that his family can be proud of. Teodor is a kind man who wants everything for his family. He can be respected for that as well.

 

As for the fire, well il let everyone know about that later.

 

All in all, this is an amazing book. The characters are all different and it gives the book more life to it. It is as if i was actually living nearby and watching the whole thing happen. I cannot wait to read more of this book. It is hard to put down!

"I wasn't mad at him. He just had to die."
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Jennd1
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Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer

I honestly thought the women did a pretty good job of taking care of the children and keeping things going, but as the family dynamic changes so do they.
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Jennd1
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Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer

I think Anna ended up with a lilfe that was much different than what she expected.  As a result she is bitter and depressed with how her life has turned out but she does not feel she can change it.  She also did not know her husband well before they married and she did not have a true picture of the kind of man he was.
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biljounc63
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Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer


Linda10 wrote:

rkubie wrote:

biljounc63 wrote:

I found it interesting when Katya thought that the host was actually the Body of Christ and was afraid that it would run out so she spit out it out and saved it as a "dough ball". She did try to save it from the fire and is ended up dissolving in the water as she was escaping the fire. She thought that she had killed Christ. You never know what children pick up on and believe. I remember as a kid in the 60's that any music played on the radio was being preformed on the live at the radio station.


 

Yes! This was both comic (because the ball of spit-welded dough is a bit gross) and heartrending because it's such a truly genuine and brutal disappointment for her-She's so literal, so young!

 

I haven't posted anything thus far on this book.  I was going to wait until next week, I think it is, when Shandi and her editor will be here.  But as long as this topic has been brought up, I might as well say it now.

 

When Katya spits out Christ, this is not comic nor cute.  It is blasphemous.  No, I'm not going to rip out anyone's throat here.  But I would be amiss if I didn't say anything at all.  I'm giving these two posters as well as Shandi the benefit of the doubt, thinking that they don't know any better.  Being Catholic (and I know others of you are too), we are taught that the Host is, indeed, the body and blood of Christ.  We are taught this in our catechism before we make our First Communion so that we will respect God's body.  If Katya is old enough to be receiving Holy Communion, then she's also been taught to respect the Host.  This is why I say that I feel that Shandi doesn't know any better or else she would never have put this into her story.  At the very least, it's historically incorrect information.

 

I will even go so far as to ask, even urge, Shandi and her editor to remove these portions before the final printing of the book.  In doing so, it would not interfere with the main plot of the story whatsoever.  After all, we are the First Lookers.  We get to comment on things we don't like as well as what we do like.  This is our opportunity to have any changes made.  (And I know this has been done in the past.  Vivico had a discussion, along with some others, with Lisa See; and Lisa actually did make some changes.)

 

I know that some (or even a lot) of you are going to scream censorship.  I'm prepared to hear that.  But there's a huge difference between leaving out, for example, the "F" word and blasphemy.  There's a point where people cross the line; and this is one of them.

 

For those of you who may not understand why my fur is flying, let's use this as an example.  Let's say that Katya, instead, drew pictures of the Star of David.  Then after every time she drew one, she would then spit on it OR throw it into the fire while laughing OR took it with her to the outhouse so she could use it to "finish up her business."  I think there would be an outpouring of outrage.

 

I know that I'm going to get slammed here for this post.  So be it.  If one can't stand up for their religious beliefs, then we no longer live in a free society.  Tolerance is a two-way street.  But I can't, in good conscience, just sit back and say or do nothing.  I love God.  Like I said, I'm giving Shandi and the posters the benefit of the doubt.  But I feel people need to understand how important this truly is.  If no one teaches you, then how do you learn?

 


Linda10 I am Catholic for the record. I posted this comment simply to point out how literal children can be. I for one look at things from a very literal way myself. I did not post this as a religious comment at all. From my take she thought that she was saving Christ so he would not run out for her family. The post was not meant to offend anybody. I still stand by my post and the passage should remain in the book. Like Paul said it is fiction.

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"Reading lets you visit the world of another"
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Lola10502
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Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer

What are your initial impressions of Maria, Anna, and the children? Do your first impressions of these characters hold true as the novel progresses?

How did Maria and her children wind up here? 

 

My first impression of Maria is that she seems like a simple, but very strong woman.  She is the strength in her family, for herself, her children, her husband, and her extended family as well.  Her main focus the the well being of her family.  Anna seems a bit self absorbed, and in such a depressed state is unable to see her blessings.  Anna has had a poor me attitude from the get go, when she was so upset about her daughter being born disfigured.  Instead of being excited about her daughters birth and trying to see the positives in life, she never bonded with her child.  She didn't even allow her to breast feed, she milked herself like a cow to feed the baby.  Even when I want to sympathize with Anna and her situation, I can't because she won't take control of her own destiny.  She has a choice to take care of her children and it's easier to focus on her hatred of her husband and her attempts to kill her unborn child, who never did anything wrong to anyone.

 

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?

 

She seems very depressed and is unable to relate to anyone besides herself.  She is so focused on her self wallowing and self pity that she is detached from the rest of the world.  Part of this could be she is clinically depressed and is unable to get past her own self let alone the rest of the people around her.  She has been dealt a rough set of circumstances, and because she was already so low in her life, she has never been able to pick herself back up from rock bottom, even with all her family support. 

 

After Theo's exhausted, hardened entrance--were you surprised at the warmth that this family obviously had for each other? Was Theo the sort of person you were expecting?

 

At first I wasn't sure if he was the ghost from the past that everyone wishes would stay away.  He seemed very detached, but in the end it just took him time to reconnect with his family.  Again, they are a strong family kept together by a strong woman, even in the absence of the head of the household.  Although it took some time Theo fit right back in with his family and found his place among them being strong and soft and finding that balance.

 

This family, at times, has barely any necessities--how do they make do? Does your own family have stories of coming through such an impossible struggle?  

 

Unless you are supremely wealthy, I think a lot of families have had to struggle at one point or another.  The biggest thing I know from my own experiences is that families make do because they have each other.  They support each other, stay strong for each other, and pick each other up when they stumble or fall.  It's sometimes surprising how inventive some people can be when it's necessary.

 

What demands do these two seasons make on this family? What do they do in Spring and in Summer?

 

These seasons are supposed to be full of work, but also the easier of the seasons.  The winter time is typically the hardest season, but so far this family has been through a very rough patch.  The spring wasn't so bad since Teodor came back and was able to better support his family.  But also hard for Anna since her husband essentially raped her and caused her to be pregnant with a very unwanted child.  The summer brought so much pain with the fire and the loss of the wheat.  They are going to have to struggle even more through the winter, which is going to be hard given the circumstances.

 

At the end of the Summer chapter, the family has lost much of it's crops and property to a fire, and then is hit by a dust storm! How do you think the family is going to survive through the coming chapters? Were you surprised by these early calamities?

 

Teodor seemed to have a plan to get through the winter.  It was a bit surprising about that they are going through so much, after having to struggle so much with the unfair treatment of Teodor, but the reality is, sometimes life is that way.  It doesn't always make sense or seem fair, but maybe this will all ultimately bring them back together, even stronger.

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Lil_Irish_Lass
Posts: 163
Registered: ‎11-21-2008

Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer

Well said!!! :-)

 

It's a very, very sad moment indeed when censorship comes in to play with the art of storytelling - it happens time and time again throughout the years and we lose and have lost way too many "priceless" works and amazing tales because of it.

 


Sunltcloud wrote:

1. Katya is six years old. She lives in an immigrant household where neither parent speaks much English. She has a vivid fantasy.

 

2. We sometimes pay little attention to the way our children pick up language. We might say things to each other that a small child only understands partially or not at all. When my daughter was five I started to work, because my husband was temporarily laid off and we needed the money.

To avoid too much upheaval in the family I worked nights; went to work after the children were in bed. We must have discussed it as working "graveyard" because my daughter told me, when she was in her teens, that she used to be scared for me. She thought I worked in a graveyard.

 

3. The part Katya's imagination plays is critical to her character, important to the overall diversity of the family members, sad in its content, and still brings a smile to my face, because I see the intensity of her love for the family and her need to help smooth their lives.

 

4. If a book were altered because parts of it don't follow the principles of one group or another, much of my childhood reading would have had to be altered. Oops! I forgot. It was. It was no longer printed.  Some was destroyed. My grandparents and my mother had to bring our extensive library to the market place and they watched it go up in flames.    


 

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"No sensible man ever engages, unprepared, in a fencing match of words with a woman." - The Woman in White
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scnole
Posts: 103
Registered: ‎11-15-2008
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Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer

I also ditto Paul's post.  

dhaupt wrote:
I ditto Paul's take on the Religion part. 

 

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belle1976
Posts: 12
Registered: ‎03-25-2009

Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer

One of the things I like most about the book is the Shandi’s vivid portrait of the characters. Each has their own separate identity, very distinct from the others.

 

I really like the spirituality each of the characters. Maria’s are obvious—a strong religious faith. Teodor and Anna appear to have lost their faith and are searching for a spiritual connection.  Teodor seems to be finding it in his work, building and farming.  Anna seems to be searching for it in her quest with the coyotes.  I am not sure if it is because she can relate to them…. Her husband shot one early on in their marriage, and now I think she feels like he is killing her, in spirit, too.  Or maybe it is because of the freedom they have, and she desires not to be tied to this life which is so different then what she saw for herself.  I don’t know.

 

Ivan is a great character.  I love the scene where Shandi is describing the calf that died during birth.  Ivan stayed with the dead calf, talking to it and giving it objects, just so the calf would know it wasn’t alone.   Then he returned to the cow and he “looked in to her eyes and could see tears deep inside.”  I don’t know how old Ivan is or if they have stated an age.  I tend to imagine him around 6 years.  I think the spirituality he possesses is amazingly beautiful.  I have a 5 year old and would never imagine anything like this coming from him, but in this story it is so believable. 

 

The other spirituality aspect that I want to comment on is Kayta and the doughball.  I know there has been some discussion regarding this so far.  I am just taking it for what it is.  It seems to be a girl who is struggling to understand her spirituality and religion and what it all really means.  She obviously doesn’t understand the religious symbolism of communion.  The purpose keeping it is “in case the church eats all of him and doesn’t save any for her family.”  She is finding meaning --- this ball of dough is her tangible piece of Christ that will take care of her family. I actually think it is quite believable and showcases how religion must look to children or even others of a different faith who might be trying to understand. 

 

Maria is a stealthy business woman, and her business is taking care of her family.  I also really like Lesya, and think she is quite like Maria.  Both seem very strong for all of the hardships they have faced, almost a glass half-full perspective.   

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belle1976
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Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer


 

 

I've been reading your thoughtful comments for several days, and, having gotten a better feel for your interests and concerns, I'm happy to join the discussion. Let me begin by asking a couple of questions that are always on my mind as an editor: Are the characters believable to you? Do they transport you to a time and place?

 

 

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!


Hi Claire-

 

I think the characters are extremely believable.  The writing is extraordinary, and each character is distinct.  I stated in an earlier post that I loved the spiritual aspect of each character, and I think that really is what is drawing me in to the story.  I think it is also just the attention to the details that add to the realistic nature.  I am thinking of the girls that are speaking in English and writing the signs in the garden.  The scene where the family is getting ready for church with attention what the kids were wearing to church.  Myron who desperately wants to prove himself to his father.  They all seem so realistic. 

 

Shandi's writing really allows the reader to get a vivid mental picture of the story.  An example-Owen Teodor and Ivan go out in the night to pee.  The fear that they have when they are running back to the house and the coyotes are close and then they ran into Anna.  I could feel their fear, and then their confusion when they walked into Anna.

 

I am really enjoying it. 

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Bedelia
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Registered: ‎10-20-2007
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Re: Early Chapters: Spring and Summer

I liked Maria and the children and later the husband too.  No doubt they are hard workers, but this book is depressing beyond measure.  The story is neither unique or unusual for that time period.  I hate the writer's style of writing - as if she's describing the set-up for a scene to be filmed.  It makes the characters seem unreal and unappealing.  I do not see this book becoming a bestseller!!