Quill & Quire Review - Blood and Salt

Reviewed by: Dana Hansen

The life-affirming power of storytelling is central to Barbara Sapergia's fourth novel, a revealing saga based on historical events involving the internemtn of Ukrainian-Canadian immigrants during the First World War. 

The year is 1914 and, amid rumblings of war, young Taras Kalyna and his parents leave their home in Austrian-ruled Ukraine to settle in rural Saskatchewan. Taras hopes to reconnect with, and marry, his sweetheart, Halya. As war erupts in Europe, however, the Canadian government brands Taras an "enemy alien" and puts him on a train to Alberta to be interned at the Castle Mountain labour camp in Banff National Park for the duration of the war.

In the camp, where food and comforts are scarce and hard labour is the daily routine, Taras forms invaluable friendships with several other Ukrainian-Canadian prisoners through the telling of stories that remind them of their homes, families, and dreams. Of particular significance is the inspiring story of the 19th-century Ukrainian poet and artist Taras Shevchenko, who dedicated himself to the cause of Ukrainian independence. Sapergia's characterization of the almost familial bond that develops among the camp's inmates is one of the novel's most tender and believable elements.

Not surprisingly, Taras emerges from the camp a different person, wiser and more guarded, but not embittered by his experience. Rather, he is emboldened to demand his rights, return to his family and home, and track down the woman he loves.

The novel's plot moves slowly and with purpose, as befits a story of unjustly imprisoned men passing months and years in captivity. The reader is encouraged to reflect on every rich and moving detail. With subtety, grace, and hope, Blood and Salt illuminates a dark and little discussed part of Canadian history. 

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