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Blood and Salt

Blood and Salt

Book - 2012
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The time is World War I, and Canadian soldiers are proving their worth in the trenches of Europe. But on the home front, Ukrainian Canadians are being sent to internment camps, Canada's Gulag. Bood and Salt is about this forgotten part of Canadian history. They had committed the crime of being unemployed in bad times. Or simply of having come from lands ruled by the Austrian empire. They became "enemy aliens." Taras Kalyna, a young man who deserted the Austrian army to search for his lost love, Halya, becomes one of these men. Imprisoned with hundreds of others in Banff National Park, he helps build a highway from Banff to Lake Louise. Conditions are brutal, the food poor. His time in camp isn't completely lost. He forges strong friendships and begins to learn about the wider world. Myro, an idealistic schoolteacher, tells him stories about the life of the great Ukrainian patriot and poet, Taras Shevchenko. Yuri, a farmer, teaches him optimism. And Tymko, a fierce socialist, helps him ask questions about his new country. Taras has no way of knowing when, or even if, he'll be free again. But even imprisoned, he never stops thinking of Halya. Their stories develop in separate strands until the war ends. And then he'll be free to look for her. Blood and Salt is a work of fiction, grounded in actual details about the Banff-Castle Mountain internment camp. It explores the search for a new life and the search for love n all the while asking what it is to be Ukrainian.
Publisher: Regina, Sask. : Coteau Books, c2012.
ISBN: 9781550505139
Branch Call Number: SAPER
Characteristics: 423 p. ; 23 cm.


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Aug 27, 2015

This book may be viewed as a history lesson, a love story, an ethno-political dissertation or an account of survival of adversity. In fact it is all of those and more. Above all, it reminds us of a shameful episode in Canadian history, largely forgotten today except by Canadians of Ukrainian background. The protagonist, Taras and his fellow detainees certainly undergo the trials of Job, made particularly painful by the fact of their total innocence of any wrongdoing or evil intent. Their only sin was to have been born in a land that was occupied and ruled by Austria, a country to which they certainly bore no allegiance. This injustice was surely even more unconscionable than the WW2 internment of Japanese immigrants. It's likely that the politicians and even the general public of that era would deny that the prisoners were as badly treated as the book portrays and they would almost certainly claim that the extreme punishment meted out to Taras and his associate never happened. No matter; the very fact of their interment and forced labor without any justification is cause enough to condemn the actions of the authorities of the day.
Quite apart from all that, the author creates a set of entirely believable and likable characters and tells a very fine love story that held my attention right to the end.

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