Sandra Birdsell

The Russländer

A novel
Emblem Editions, McClelland & Stewart, 2002
McClelland & Stewart, 2001

The Russlander - book coverJury Citation for Giller Prize: “Sandra Birdsell’s The Russländer evokes with artistic nobility the daily life among a Mennonite community in Russia at the beginning of the first world war, a war that tragically consumes their ordinary expectations and their lives in the cheap excesses and banality of murder. With her formidable gifts for psychological observation and her uncanny details of daily life a century ago, Birdsell weaves a place as important as any in our literature. By showing how power is often foisted upon us from an outside world, The Russländer illuminates, with an artistic glow of the first rank, the intimate certainty that evil will not dominate kindness, truth, or love.”

Katherine (Katya) Vogt is now an old woman living in Winnipeg, but the story of how she and her family came to Canada begins in Russia in 1910, on a wealthy Mennonite estate. Here they lived in a world bounded by the prosperity of their landlords and by the poverty and disgruntlement of the Russian workers who toil on the estate. But in the wake of the First World War, the tensions engulfing the country begin to intrude on the community, leading to an unspeakable act of violence. In the aftermath of that violence, and in the difficult years that follow, Katya tries to come to terms with the terrible events that befell her and her family. In lucid, spellbinding prose, Birdsell vividly evokes time and place, and the unease that existed in a country on the brink of revolutionary change. The Russländer is a powerful and moving story of ordinary people who lived through extraordinary times.

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Praise for The Russländer

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