One of the ways a good book engages you is that you are able to make some kind of personal connection with one or more of the characters. While I was reading Dora Dueck’s new book All That Belongs I was making so many connections with her protagonist Catherine that I started jotting down a list of things we had in common. When I got to twenty I stopped, but I could have easily continued.
Catherine and I are both retired and live in apartments in downtown Winnipeg. We volunteer at Thrift Shops. We like to go for walks along the river. We feel an obligation to spend time with an ageing parent. We grew up in Mennonite homes.
How often did I sit around a campfire with various church youth groups singing Kumbaya just like Catherine did in her teens? Catherine and I saw the Sound of Music multiple times when it first came out. We met our husbands, who both became teachers, at Mennonite colleges and began our relationships with them at the college fall retreat. We have younger sisters living in Winnipeg in homes very different from our own. We see our sisters regularly. We savour the special feeling of buying a new notebook for journaling and writing.
Catherine and I spend time down at the Forks in Winnipeg. In fact, I picked up a coffee and pastry at the Tall Grass Prairie bakery there and ensconced myself in one of the comfy chairs in their new second-floor sitting area to finish reading All That Belongs. Over the course of the book, Catherine explores her family’s history including tragic events that happened in Ukraine. I just read a short story to my writers’ group on Thursday night that included some of the tragic stories I’ve discovered while exploring my family’s past in Ukraine.
When I was reading All That Belongs the phrase ‘gentle reader’ kept coming into my head. It is a kind of old fashioned way writers like Charlotte Bronte or Jane Austen address their reading audience directly. I felt like Dora was talking directly to me in this book and she had some important things to say, but she did so in such a gentle and measured way that I felt a sense of comfort and goodness as I read.
All That Belongs made me think of Hans Werner’s book The Constructed Mennonite. Like Catherine in Dora’s novel, Hans explores some startling things he discovers about his family’s past that he didn’t know while growing up.
I spent quite a bit of time studying the wonderful artwork by Agatha Fast Doerksen on the cover of All That Belongs. I thought about how I might create a similar kind of creative collage with photos of people from my family’s past.
I was sorry to miss Dora’s Winnipeg launch of All That Belongs because of my trip to Croatia. I would have liked to hear what she had to say about her book. I did, however, follow her blog posts about her travels to launch her book at various locations in Canada.
All That Belongs is published by Turnstone Press and is available at McNally Robinson Booksellers. I would definitely recommend it and I’d love to hear from blog readers about points of connection they may have discovered in the book.