Review: CONSIDER THE SUNFLOWERS by Elma Schemenauer

Review by Joan Soggie, a Saskatchewan-based author and former librarian

Winter storms and Saskatchewan sunsets.  A farming community in the Canadian prairie. Nosy neighbours and judgemental churchgoers. Birth, death, love and betrayal.

Author Elma Schemenauer’s clear prose and colloquial language immediately set the reader at ease. Yet this quiet little book, as unassuming as a housewife’s apron, contains all the elements of human drama. Frank and Tina’s lives are ordinary. But as Mark Twain famously said, “There is no such thing as an ordinary life.” Set against the background of a Mennonite community in the 1940s, the story unfolds through Tina’s and Frank’s alternating viewpoints. Tina – pretty, self-willed, enjoying her newfound freedom as a secretary in Vancouver- vacillates between

Author Elma Schemenauer’s clear prose and colloquial language immediately set the reader at ease. Yet this quiet little book, as unassuming as a housewife’s apron, contains all the elements of human drama. Frank and Tina’s lives are ordinary. But as Mark Twain famously said, “There is no such thing as an ordinary life.” Set against the background of a Mennonite community in the 1940s, the story unfolds through Tina’s and Frank’s alternating viewpoints. Tina – pretty, self-willed, enjoying her newfound freedom as a secretary in Vancouver- vacillates between desire for a stable marriage and love for her half-Gypsy, not quite Mennonite, hometown boyfriend. Frank, sullen, dark-browed and unpredictable, haunted by insecurity, cannot give up his oh-so-proper yet passionate sweetheart. Both have deep ties with their community through family, church, school friends and neighbours. Some of those ties are burdensome, heavy with painful memories. Some are sweet and life giving. Sometimes irksome neighbours turn out to be the best friends. Sometimes good friends cause unexpected heartache.

Author Schemenauer grew up in a community much like her fictional “Dayspring in the Municipality of Coyote, Saskatchewan.” Her intimate and affectionate understanding communicates itself to the reader as the story unfolds. Her characters accurately reflect the time and place. Roland’s “ancestors had the same Dutch-German-Mennonite background” as Tina but was to her “as boring as turnips.” Frank “was hot peppers, red cabbage and wild mushrooms.” Frank’s heart “rears like a startled horse” and Preacher Schellenberg meets his wayward parishioner “near the Boston fern, under the picture of the Last Supper.” The solid ordinariness of everyday life in a mid-20th century prairie town underlies every sentence.

Yet the story, while shaped by the time and place, by major events like the World War and minor events like bad weather, turns on the characters themselves. This is not a simple boy-meets-girl love story. The characters wrestle with their own selfishness, doubts and spiritual hunger. Tina, Frank, Roland, Victor, Dorrie all grow, change and take on a reality of their own. The outcome, like life itself, is ambivalent and not an ordinary fairytale ending.

Elma Schemenauer has shown in Consider the Sunflowers the extraordinary struggles and joys implicit in everyday existence. This is a good read for anyone who enjoys the timeless human drama.

The final pages of the book trace Mennonite history from 1525 to the present and will be of special interest to those with a Mennonite background or anyone interested in church history. The study questions included make this an especially good choice for a book club or literature class.

Author: Elma Schemenauer Title: Consider the Sunflowers Publisher: Borealis Press, October 28, 2014, Paperback 299 pages ISBN 978-0-88887-575-4. Available from Chapters onlinehttp://tinyurl.com/ny8smwk or Borealis Press http://tinyurl.com/lfdo9pf  . More information at http://elmams.wix.com/sflwrs  . Book trailer https://youtu.be/sBRuhh1xX7Y .

About Shaleeta Harrison

I am the Executive Director of the FBCW.

Comments are closed.