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Fiction World War I

The Russlander

by (author) Sandra Birdsell

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Aug 2002
World War I, Literary, 20th Century
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2002
    List Price

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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 county on the brink of revolutionary change. The Russländer is a powerful and moving story of ordinary people who lived through extraordinary times.

About the author

Sandra Birdsell is an award-winning writer, the author of The Two-Headed Calf (shortlisted for the 1997 Governor General's Award), Night Travellers, Ladies of the House, The Missing Child and The Chrome Suite.Among other awards, she has won the WH Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Gerald Lampert Award for New Fiction. The Town That Floated Away is her first children's book.She lives in Regina, Saskatchewan, but grew up in Morris, Manitoba -- a town that truly did, one day, float away.

Sandra Birdsell's profile page


  • Nominated, Scotiabank Giller Prize

Editorial Reviews

“It is a compassionate, well-developed family story of love, loyalty, faith, hate, loss and betrayal.…It is a story that could be told by any family displaced by war and revolution.”
Winnipeg Free Press
“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.”
–Jury Citation for the Giller Prize

“Entrancing.…Birdsell has outdone herself.…There is a temptation to quote The Russländer in full. It’s that good a novel.”
National Post
“Realistic, dramatic, dense.…The Russländer is profound.”
Quill & Quire (starred review)
“Masterful.…She weaves historical fact and domestic detail into a meticulous portrait of a tightly knit community driven to the brink of existence.…It’s impossible not to see Katya and her family in the faces of the fleeing refugees as world events once again sweep innocent people into a maelstrom.”
Ottawa Citizen

“Compelling.…We think not so much of the story as the process of memory and reflection, the ability of language to convey a remembered reality.”
Toronto Star
“Birdsell has reached deep for her story, and that of countless immigrants to a new land, and come up with treasure as precious as that silver, two-handled cup that serves as a totem throughout this novel about remembrance and redemption.”
Hamilton Spectator
Edmonton Journal
“An important book.…It shows how easily we can destroy our world, but also that we have the ability to rebuild it.”
Globe and Mail
“I think it’s both beautiful and brave, and very, very moving.”
–Ann Jansen, CBC Radio

“[Birdsell] documents in chilling, unsentimental prose man’s unspeakable capacity for cruelty towards his fellow man.…As relevant as today’s headlines.”

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