Blood and Salt by Barbara Sapergia

Blood and Salt, Barbara Sapergia

Coteau Books, 423 pages

ISBN 9781550505139

On a hot summer night in 1915, a passenger train filled with Ukrainian immigrants rolls westward through the Canadian Prairies.  The train is heading for the Castle-Mountain Banff Internment Camp, and none of the men on the train know why they are there.  Certainly not Taras Kalyna, barely twenty, who followed his love, Halya, when her family emigrated to rural Saskatchewan.  Only a short while ago, Taras and his parents were making a new life for themselves, building a home, working the land, and finding steady employment in town.  The Canadian government then decided that Ukrainians, coming from a region ruled by Austria, posed a threat during wartime and should be contained for the duration.  His freedom gone, Taras now sits on a train that is carrying him to a prison camp in the Rocky Mountains.

Taras lives at the camp for two years.  The men rise early and spend their days hacking away at the mountains to clear out a path for the Trans-Canada Highway.  It is hard work, made even more difficult by austere living conditions and lack of decent food.  Fortunately for Taras, he quickly befriends the other men in his bunkhouse, and at night, they tell stories.  Myro relates the adventures of the celebrated painter and poet Taras Shevchenko, who dreamt, above all else, of a free Ukraine, and Taras tells how he came to be separated from the beautiful Halya and his plans to find her when the imprisonment is over.  Through the power of storytelling, the men discover their capacity to speak out against injustice and create a better situation for everyone.

Told in a wonderfully conversational voice, Blood and Salt effectively exposes the atrocity of Canadian internment camps while reflecting on the importance of love, freedom and national identity.   This compelling story will appeal to those who enjoyed the themes in Obasan by Joy Kogawa and Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas, and also to readers of well-written historical fiction set in Canada.

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10 Responses to Blood and Salt by Barbara Sapergia

  1. You do this so well! Just wondering–have you ever read The English Passengers by Matthew Kneale? One of the best books I’ve read for a long time.

  2. Alex says:

    I think we are all so quick to overlook the fact that the Allies behaved atrociously to certain groups of people in both wars. ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ was a real eye-opener for me. I shall look out for this.

    • Naomi says:

      Yes, I found Snow Falling on Cedars very moving, too. In Canada, we tend to have this sense that we’re somehow innocent of all of this, but that’s not true. I’d love to find a similar novel about the African-American experience after the runaway slaves arrived in Canada … apparently it wasn’t as rosy as we’d like to think.

  3. This sounds fascinating. I had no idea there were internment camps in Canada.

    • Naomi says:

      Yes, we had them in both World Wars, and the Trans-Canada Highway was mostly built by new immigrants who ended up in these camps. Not many Canadians know about this awful bit of our history, even today.

  4. You can find more information about Canada’s first national internment operations at the website of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (www.uccla.ca) or at the website of the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund (www.internmentcanada.ca). There is also an interactive map of the 24 camp sites at the website of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation.

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