In Beyond the Wilds, author Mary Kolisnyk Spry-Myers sets out to create a work of historical fiction based on the experiences of her Ukrainian relatives, who immigrated to Canada in the 1800s.
Although most readers would sympathize with Helena, the title character, the book falls short as a novel. The narrative style, interspersed with informational chapters for historical context, lacks vigor, and elements of fiction (scenes, plot, subplot, dialogue and fleshed-out characters) are, for the most part, missing.
Helena doesn’t appear until chapter 17. Before that, we meet Michael, a boy from her Ukrainian village whose family, like Helena’s, immigrated to Manitoba. Michael and Helena reconnect on a train in Canada. They marry, and their struggles continue until chapter 39, when, suddenly, the focus shifts to their daughter Emily, through whose memory the novel unfolds. It is clear that Emily is the author.
Unfortunately, Spry-Myers doesn’t bring an Eastern European voice to the text, which would have set it apart. Her pioneer immigrants could hail from most anywhere, and their experiences are reminiscent of the Little House on the Prairie-type episodes most Americans are familiar with: the land is difficult to farm; the climate is harsh; education is the key to success, but achieving it demands persistence and ingenuity.
Readers of historical nonfiction, especially stories of pioneer life, might like Beyond the Wilds, but it would be more enjoyable and believable if the author had written a family history using the actual names of her relatives, included dialogue reflecting their country of origin and woven the informative portions throughout when appropriate. In addition, a thorough proofreading would have caught more typos in the text.
Also available in hard cover.